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       Severed, p.12

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  ‘Hi Cyrus!’

  Evie looked up. A tall, skinny waitress with long braids was waving at Cyrus from behind the counter. Cyrus raised a hand in greeting. Then, from out of nowhere a squealing thing came barrelling towards them on platform heels. It pulled up in front of them and Evie saw it was a small blonde girl wearing a tight, midriff-exposing white shirt.

  ‘Hey Cyrus,’ the girl said, thrusting her chest out and up towards his face. She was holding a tray on which were balanced two cups of coffee and a chocolate cupcake. Behind her, Evie could see two customers frowning at their delayed order.

  ‘Hey beautiful,’ Cyrus said, his eyes grazing the girl’s breasts.

  ‘Here to see your mum?’ she asked, looking up at him with an expression that was one part hope and two parts desperation.

  ‘Nope, I’m here to see you, Marcy,’ Cyrus answered, flashing her a wide smile.

  The girl’s face fell. ‘Marissa,’ she said.

  Cyrus swallowed his laugh. ‘Marissa,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘I knew that.’

  The girl scowled at him, her face scrunching up. ‘Sure you did.’

  Cyrus grinned, then lifted the cupcake off the tray, leaning forward as he did so and planting a kiss on her cheek. ‘Is my mum here?’ he asked.

  ‘She’s upstairs,’ the waitress replied slightly breathlessly. Evie tried to control the eyeball roll, which around Cyrus seemed to have become an automated response, similar to a gag reflex.

  They followed Cyrus’s lead through the café part of the shop, between smart LA couples nursing their coffees while playing with their iPads, towards a door behind the counter. Cyrus stopped to punch a code on the security system on the wall and Evie found herself suddenly being elbowed aside by the skinny waitress with braids who planted herself securely against Cyrus’s thigh.

  ‘Hi,’ she smiled, her lip-glossed lips reflecting Cyrus’s nervous expression. ‘Did you lose my number or something? You said you’d call,’ she said. Then bending closer towards him she dropped her voice. ‘The other night was …’

  Cyrus cut her off, putting both hands on her shoulders and manoeuvring her away from the door. Evie noticed his gaze fall quickly to her name badge. ‘I promise I will call you, Darcy.’

  The girl smiled, delirious that he’d remembered her name. Evie suppressed the third eyeball roll in as many minutes and a groan as well. Or maybe she didn’t suppress the groan because Darcy the waitress suddenly turned, seeming surprised to see them there. ‘Who are your friends?’ she asked Cyrus. ‘Are they new band members?’

  Band members? Evie gave Cyrus a look and he pulled a just drop it face before he turned back to Darcy.

  ‘Yeah, that’s right. New band members.’ He paused, before nodding his head in Lucas’s direction. ‘Well, he’s on tryout.’

  Darcy gave Lucas a quick head to toe, her eyes dilating when she reached his face. Evie felt her impatience getting the better of her. She cleared her throat and Darcy glanced at her, smiling nervously when she saw Evie’s scowl.

  ‘When are you going to be playing? When’s your first gig?’ she asked, bouncing on the tips of her toes.

  ‘Oh, you know, we’re still practising,’ Cyrus coughed, ‘gelling as a band. The new bass player needs some practice.’ Cyrus punched in the rest of the code and yanked the door open hard, blocking Darcy from sight.

  ‘Well, call me!’ Darcy yelled from the other side of the door.

  ‘Yeah, sure,’ Cyrus mumbled, urging Evie and Lucas through and slamming the door shut behind them.

  ‘A band?’ Evie asked, trying not very hard to keep a straight face.

  ‘It’s a neat cover,’ Cyrus answered sullenly.

  She nodded, smiling. ‘Sure it is.’

  He was leading the way up some stairs. She watched him swagger through another doorway. Not even rock stars had egos as big as his, she suspected. He stopped outside a final door, heavily plated in some kind of metal, and leant casually against it.

  ‘Mum, it’s me,’ he called. ‘I’m standing outside, so put down whatever weapon you have pointed at the door. I’m coming in.’

  He waited a few seconds, then, shooting a smile at Evie, he pressed down on the handle and the door swung open.

  Evie inched forward to see, peering around Cyrus’s shoulder. A woman was sitting facing them, leaning against a desk. In her hands was a crossbow, similar to the one Victor had given Evie to train with. It had three arrows lined up ready to fire and was tilted slightly upwards so that an arrow was aimed at each of their heads. This was Margaret then.

  ‘Good morning to you too, mum,’ Cyrus said.

  ‘What’s he doing here?’ his mother asked angrily, not taking her eyes off Lucas.

  She must have sensed Lucas was an unhuman. Evie appraised her. The woman’s instincts were good. ‘He’s with me,’ she said, stepping forward quickly to shield Lucas from the crossbow.

  ‘He’s with her,’ Cyrus concurred.

  ‘And who is she?’ Margaret growled, her eyes barely flickering to Evie before returning straight away to Lucas. Evie could see the swallow of fear she tried to hide, the way her nostrils were quivering. She noted the tension in the white knuckles of her hands, wrapped around the firing mechanism. Quite clearly twenty-odd years hadn’t dulled either her senses or her fear.

  ‘I’m Evie Tremain,’ Evie answered softly, her gaze glued to Margaret’s hands.

  Margaret’s mouth tightened into a brief grimace. ‘Where’d you find this one?’ she barked at Cyrus.

  ‘Oh, this one found me,’ Cyrus answered, crossing over to a cabinet on the wall which seemed, from the quick glance Evie gave it, to contain a whole load of weapons. The door to the cabinet was open and Cyrus reached inside.

  ‘You still haven’t told me what he’s doing here,’ Margaret spat, tipping her head in Lucas’s direction.

  Evie noticed that Margaret had the exact same eyes as Cyrus – all except for the slash of brown across the iris. She was young-looking for a mum, though Evie’s frame of reference for parents was warped by her adoptive parents’ ages. They had been a good decade older than most of her friends’ parents. But Margaret looked to be in her mid-thirties.

  ‘Why are you with him?’ Margaret demanded.

  ‘Um …,’ Evie cleared her throat.

  ‘They’re lovers,’ Cyrus suddenly piped up, turning around with a switchblade in his hand. ‘They’re getting their freak on, doing the bad thing, making the sign of the two-backed demon. You name it, they’re doing it.’

  ‘Cyrus,’ his mother snapped.

  Lucas cleared his throat and stepped forwards. ‘I’m Lucas Gray,’ he said.

  Chapter 23

  Evie turned her head slightly. Lucas had stepped silently from behind her and was now standing in the centre of the room, his head slightly bowed, his arms by his side, palms facing forwards, making it clear that he was unarmed. Though he was armed. She could see the shape of his knife pressed against his spine, hidden under his T-shirt.

  ‘Why are you here?’ Margaret demanded.

  ‘These people wanted to meet you, mum.’ Cyrus had put the knife back and was now examining a longer blade, with a slightly curved edge. It was glowing dimly like phosphorescence under water.

  ‘Why?’

  Cyrus smiled broadly, testing the edge of the knife against his thumb then pulling it quickly away with a wince. ‘You’re going to like this. Remember that prophecy you told me about years ago? The thing about the White Light? Remember when the rumours started flying around that she’d been found and you told me not to believe it because there was no way it could ever be true?’

  Margaret’s eyes had widened. ‘Yes,’ she nodded, her gaze flying back to Evie.

  ‘Well, wait for it, it is true! Evie here is the White Light.’

  The crossbow thudded into her lap as Margaret’s mouth fell open. ‘She’s … you’re … you’re … the White Light? You’re sure?’ She was looking Evie up and down, incredulous. ‘The Whi
te Light was said to be the child of two warriors. There were no children born to Hunters. I would have known about it.’

  ‘No one knew about it,’ Lucas said in the voice he usually used to calm horses and dogs and occasionally her. ‘Evie only found out about it herself a month ago.’

  ‘How? Who told you this?’ Margaret snapped, ignoring Lucas and focusing on Evie.

  ‘Victor,’ she answered. ‘He was my trainer.’

  Another swallow of fear. ‘Victor? You know Victor?’

  Evie narrowed her eyes at the woman. She could hear her heart beating rapidly now, the pulse of it uneven. ‘Yes,’ she finally answered, ‘I know him.’

  ‘He’s been training her the last month, introducing her to the ways of the Hunter,’ Cyrus said with a trace of sarcasm in his voice that riled her. What was he implying? She was trained. She knew what she was doing. Cyrus hadn’t even seen any of her moves yet. She could take him. And his ego into the bargain.

  ‘Who are your parents?’ Margaret asked.

  ‘James and Megan Hunter.’

  Margaret’s eyes grew almost as round and large as Issa’s. ‘James and Meg?’ she exclaimed. ‘Are you sure?’

  ‘You knew them?’ Evie asked, feeling her own heart starting to hammer in response.

  ‘God, yes! Of course I know them. They … But good Lord, I never knew they had a child.’ She stopped abruptly, her gaze falling to the floor. ‘What were they thinking?’ she asked softly, almost to herself. Then her head shot up. ‘What happened to them? Where are they?’

  ‘Victor killed them.’ Evie felt the wrench in her stomach as she said it out loud. ‘I was just a baby. I don’t remember them.’

  Margaret stared at her, ashen faced. She shook her head, a trace of pity in her eyes. ‘If I’d have known … Cyrus, stop messing with that! It’s not yours,’ she snapped. ‘Come and sit down.’

  Cyrus dropped the knife he was playing with back into the cabinet and came and slumped in one of the two chairs placed in front of the desk, sucking the edge of his thumb which Evie saw was bleeding where he’d cut it on the knife. Margaret walked around and sat down on the other side of the desk.

  ‘Tell me everything you know,’ she said, putting her elbows on the table and clasping her hands in front of her as if she was praying. She nodded at the free chair and indicated that Evie should sit. Evie sat, glancing nervously at Lucas as she did. He moved to stand just behind her, resting a hand on the back of her chair.

  ‘Well,’ Evie began, ‘we were hoping you’d be able to tell us everything you know.’

  Margaret leant forward. ‘How did Victor keep you hidden for so long? How did he keep it quiet?’

  ‘I don’t know,’ Evie said. ‘He wasn’t exactly big on truth – it kind of had to be prised out of him. My whole life I never had a clue about any of this. I mean I knew I had been adopted when I was a baby. I knew that, but I never knew a thing about my real parents. I just assumed they didn’t want me, they’d abandoned me, so I never bothered looking for them. And then, about a month ago, Victor showed up – he just breezed into the diner I was working in and – everything changed.’ She closed her eyes briefly, remembering how he’d ordered a soya decaf latte and tipped her twenty dollars before offering her a job. A pretend job as it turned out – just a cover so he could train her. She realised she’d stopped talking. ‘The same night the Brotherhood showed up and …’ She took a huge, heaving breath and felt the gentle pressure of Lucas’s hand on her shoulder, ‘Anyway, the long and the short of it is that Victor told me that I wasn’t who I thought I was at all. That I was actually a Hunter.’

  ‘You look so like them. I’m amazed I didn’t see it.’

  ‘I’m sorry?’ Evie said, looking up at Margaret.

  Margaret was smiling at her sadly. ‘You look like your father, but you have your mother’s smile. And her eyes.’

  ‘That’s what Jocelyn said too.’

  Margaret blinked. ‘Jocelyn? You know Jocelyn?’

  ‘Yes.’

  She shook her head in disbelief, ‘She’s still alive then?’

  ‘Yes,’ Evie said. ‘She stayed in Riverview the whole time, watching out for me.’ Evie frowned at herself. She didn’t want to get into details about Jocelyn. That wound was still raw. Jocelyn had known all along that Victor had killed her parents but hadn’t thought to tell her. Instead she’d let her think that Victor was a good guy and not the lying psychopathic nut-job that he actually was. There wasn’t a rule about how forgiveness worked in situations like that. Jocelyn had looked out for her, had spent a life in tweed, playing bridge and knitting, all to ensure that she was kept safe. But after everything that had happened … No, Evie thought, smiling grimly, forgiveness was still a long way off.

  She realised Margaret was talking. ‘Jocelyn and your mother were always close. Like sisters. We were brought together to train. There was your mum and dad, Jocelyn, Earl, Victor and me. Six of us. We were all teenagers at the time – about your age. I was the youngest. I was barely fifteen when we first met. They liked to start us young back then. The man who was training us …’ She broke off and Evie spotted the tremor in her shoulders that made its way into her voice. ‘His name was David – he was our mentor – like Victor was to you. Victor was David’s protégé even then.’ Again Evie picked up the edge to her voice when she mentioned David’s name. ‘Victor was always following him around – a sycophantic lapdog. The two of them were desperate to figure out the prophecy, what it meant, who it was talking about.’

  Margaret took a breath before continuing, ‘We were living up in the Bay area, in an old school building. We spent the days training, the nights hunting. Back then there weren’t so many unhumans.’

  ‘How did you even get recruited?’ Evie asked.

  ‘Oh, I was born into it,’ Margaret said, giving her a quick smile. ‘My parents had been Hunters. All our parents were, apart from Victor’s. He wasn’t pure Hunter like the rest of us. They died when I was fifteen in a big battle with the Brotherhood.’ Her eyes flew to Lucas briefly. ‘And then it was my turn. In the old days being a Hunter was a family profession. An honour,’ she added, answering Evie’s frown, ‘like generations of families going to the same college or all becoming doctors. I broke a twenty-five-generation trend by escaping.’

  Evie pounced. ‘Why? Why did you escape?’

  She smiled again softly. ‘The same reason your parents tried to, Evie. I was trying to protect my son, my unborn son.’

  Evie glanced at Cyrus who was leaning back in his chair, one ankle crossed over the other knee. He blew air out of his mouth loudly.

  ‘How old are you?’ Margaret asked.

  ‘Seventeen,’ Evie answered, turning back to her.

  ‘That’s how old I was when I ran. I was pregnant. Can you even imagine what it was like? First discovering that I was pregnant? Then knowing that if I had a child I’d be bringing them into the world to be this? A Hunter?’ she practically spat the last word.

  Evie gulped. She couldn’t imagine getting pregnant at seventeen. But she could imagine the fear of bringing a child into this world to become a Hunter because she’d already spent hours thinking about it back in Riverview, before vowing she would never do anything so stupid or selfish. She shook her head.

  ‘No. Me neither,’ Margaret said, ‘so I ran. I wanted more for my child. I wanted to protect him. It’s funny – you won’t know what it’s like to be a mother – but there is nothing you wouldn’t do to protect your child. Nothing. Your parents helped me get away. They were the only ones I trusted – the only ones who knew why I was running. I wouldn’t have been able to escape without them. I ran, first to Europe and then, finally, when I thought it was safe, we came back here.’

  ‘Victor told me you were dead. He told me he’d killed you for trying to escape.’

  Margaret shrugged. ‘Let me guess, was he threatening you at the time?’

  Evie nodded.

  Margaret began again. ‘When Cyrus
was about eight I let him stick a pin in a map of the world to decide where we’d go next. He chose here. By then I thought it would be safe. I hadn’t heard from Victor or any other Hunter in years. I thought I had left all that behind. I had a new life, a new name.’ She snorted air out through her nose. ‘But then Cyrus chose this life.’

  Cyrus groaned loudly next to her, his head banging the back of the seat.

  Margaret ignored him. ‘Cyrus doesn’t seem to realise what I risked to get him away, to protect him from all this. To him it’s just a game. I’m just some silly woman worrying about nothing.’

  ‘Mum, would you just drop it already?’ Cyrus huffed loudly.

  ‘Drop it?’ Margaret shouted. ‘You could be anything you wanted to be, Cyrus, and yet you choose this? After everything I did. After everything I risked for you.’

  ‘Seriously? Here? Can’t we save this for therapy?’

  Evie interrupted. ‘I’m sorry, Mrs …?’

  Margaret turned to look at her. ‘Locke,’ she said. ‘I changed my name. I’m Margaret Locke. I’ve not been Margaret Hunter for twenty years.’

  ‘Mrs Locke,’ Evie continued, trying to shake the thought that she was related in some way to this woman, ‘we thought you might be able to help us. We need to find out more about the prophecy.’

  ‘We need to know what we’re supposed to do to make it happen, sooner rather than later,’ Lucas added.

  Margaret’s gaze flew to Lucas. ‘We? You mean her?’

  ‘No. I mean we,’ he replied pleasantly.

  Margaret’s mouth pursed. ‘I don’t know what you’re supposed to do.’

  Evie felt every particle of energy in her body dissolve. That was not the answer she’d been hoping for. Everything hinged on this – on this woman being able to help them. If she couldn’t, what were they going to do?

  ‘We only know one part of the prophecy,’ Lucas pressed. ‘We know the Sybll broke it into fragments but we thought maybe you might know where we could find the rest of it?’

  Margaret’s face seemed to freeze for a moment. Evie could feel the older woman’s nervousness like a pungent waft of air. ‘No,’ Margaret said finally, holding Lucas’s gaze.

 
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