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       Severed, p.13

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  ‘But what about all the books you’ve got? All the research you’ve been doing for the last twenty years?’ Cyrus interrupted.

  ‘What research?’ Lucas asked. Evie heard the note of panic in his voice too.

  Margaret gave a faint shrug. ‘It’s just family tree stuff. Genealogy. I was interested in discovering the roots to the Hunter family.’

  ‘Why?’ Evie asked, finding her voice.

  ‘It doesn’t interest you to know where you come from?’

  ‘But you ran away from it,’ Evie said, shaking her head, not understanding.

  ‘Well,’ Margaret answered, ‘I wanted to know what I was running from.’

  ‘There’s a family tree. I saw it – in the same book the prophecy was in,’ Evie said quietly, thinking of the convoluted diagram in the back of the book Victor had given her. It had detailed every Hunter that had ever been, right down to her. That’s where she’d first heard of Margaret – her name had been scratched through.

  ‘So you know then that you’re the last one?’ Margaret said, ‘You’re the last full-blood Hunter. Your parents were from the old line. Most of us were. David our trainer, Jocelyn and Victor too. But I doubt either of them had children.’

  ‘Hang on, does that mean we’re related?’

  Evie turned her head. Cyrus was pointing his bloodied thumb at her with an expression of undisguised horror on his face.

  ‘Only distantly,’ Margaret said, shaking her head. ‘Third cousins removed or something.’

  Cyrus exhaled loudly. ‘OK, that’s good. I can work with that.’ He grinned at Evie, ‘Had me worried for a moment there.’

  Evie couldn’t see Lucas but she could guess at the look he was giving Cyrus. Margaret too was glaring at him. He seemed oblivious to it all, however.

  ‘The generations thinned through the years,’ Margaret continued. ‘The concept of sending your children off to do battle in the name of a higher good disintegrated after the First and Second World Wars. People were questioning the sense of bringing children into the world just to have them sacrifice themselves in a war without end.’

  ‘But you had me. You got pregnant,’ Cyrus pointed out.

  ‘Look,’ Margaret snapped, staring at Evie, ‘there’s nothing I can tell you about the prophecy. I’m sorry. I wish there was. There’s nothing I’d like more than for this to end. You’ve no idea how long I’ve waited. But,’ she said, her eyes coming to rest on Lucas, ‘you need a Sybll to tell you more. They’re the ones the prophecy came from in the first place.’

  ‘We’ve tried that,’ Lucas answered. ‘They don’t know anything. Or at least nothing they’re willing to share. But maybe …’

  Evie whipped around in her seat to look up at Lucas, a question forming on her lips. Maybe what?

  ‘Maybe I can try again. Grace might know something,’ he explained with a faint shrug of his shoulders. ‘She was in the Brotherhood.’

  ‘You were in the Brotherhood?’ Margaret exclaimed, staring at Lucas horror-struck.

  ‘Yes,’ Lucas answered, his tone flat.

  ‘You broke your oath?’ she whispered, her eyes wide.

  Lucas nodded. ‘Yes.’

  Margaret drew in a long breath. ‘Can you find this Grace?’ she finally asked, an unmistakably eager tone in her voice.

  ‘I don’t know. I’m not sure she wants to be found,’ Lucas answered.

  Evie was out of her chair, sending it flying. Lucas caught it in his left hand as it tumbled and righted it. ‘She’s a Sybll. If she doesn’t want to be found, Lucas, you won’t find her. You can’t go. It’s pointless, and … and I won’t let you.’

  Margaret had stood too, both hands resting on the desk in front of her. ‘It might be the only chance you have of finding out more,’ she said.

  ‘Evie,’ Lucas said softly, ‘she’s right. We’re hitting brick walls. We have to find a way forward. If anyone knows anything it will be Grace. And she helped me once before. I think, if I can find her, she’ll help again. But she won’t come near a group of Hunters.’ He paused. ‘I should have gone with Issa, but I didn’t want to leave you then.’

  ‘Well, why can you leave me now?’ Evie couldn’t help the shriek in her voice.

  He smiled softly at her, his thumb briefly coming to rest on her wrist against her pulse, as if he could bring it under control just by his touch. ‘Because now I won’t be leaving you alone.’ He jerked his head in Cyrus’s direction, and she saw the shadow of a grimace pass across his face at the idea of leaving her with him. ‘I’ll come back, I promise,’ he added.

  ‘I’m coming with you,’ Evie announced, trying to get around the chair that was blocking her path. There was no way he was going to turn invisible and get out of that door. No way. It wasn’t happening.

  ‘No,’ he said, moving to stand in her way, his hand coming around her waist.

  She opened her mouth to protest, aware that Cyrus and his mother were both staring at them, but she didn’t care. Lucas wasn’t going anywhere. Or, at least, not without her.

  ‘You should stay here. He’s right. You have to stay here.’ It was Margaret talking. Evie turned and glared at her.

  ‘If you come it’ll be more dangerous for me, Evie,’ Lucas said quietly, pulling her towards him and holding her by the arms. ‘On my own I can hide. I can be invisible.’

  Evie tried to think of another argument but before she could Cyrus appeared at her side. ‘I’ll take care of her, don’t worry,’ he said to Lucas with a grin.

  Evie’s stomach immediately tensed. Lucas raised his eyes slowly from Evie’s face to meet Cyrus’s stare. ‘If you let anything happen to her,’ he said in a voice that sounded like it could draw blood, ‘if she even so much as scrapes her knee or gets a paper cut, I will kill you.’

  ‘We’ll see about that,’ Cyrus answered. ‘But don’t worry, I won’t let any unhumans near her.’

  ‘So what are you waiting for?’ Margaret spoke up, breaking the tension. ‘No time like the present.’

  ‘Evie,’ Lucas pulled her back around to face him.

  ‘Lucas,’ she whispered, pressing her forehead against his shoulder. How was she supposed to let him go?

  Cyrus made a loud groaning sound behind her.

  ‘Don’t do anything crazy. Promise me?’ Lucas whispered into her ear.

  ‘What if …?’ she began.

  He cut her off, raising her chin with his hand and staring into her eyes. ‘No. No what ifs. I’m going to be fine. I promise. I’ll see you soon.’

  She swallowed, but her throat had constricted and it felt like she was choking. ‘OK,’ she finally whispered.

  ‘I love you,’ Lucas said.

  A big snorting exhalation from Cyrus.

  ‘OK, OK, you’d best be going.’ Margaret had walked around the table and was standing by the door, one hand on the handle, her body pressed against the bookshelf, as far away from Lucas as she could physically get.

  ‘Here, I want you to take this,’ Lucas said, pressing something into Evie’s hand.

  She looked down. ‘No. No way,’ she said, shoving her hands behind her back. ‘That’s yours. You might need it.’

  He pressed his shadow blade towards her. ‘I want you to have it.’

  She shook her head more firmly.

  ‘Just until I get back,’ he pleaded. ‘Please. I’d feel better knowing you had it.’

  She took a deep breath and then slid her fingers around the hilt. It was so light it could have been a mote of dust she was holding in her palm. She felt that if she let it go it would float away or disappear – just like its owner.

  ‘Bye,’ Lucas said, his fingers slipping from hers. He paused briefly to press his lips against hers and then he was gone, leaving just the faintest pressure, a pulse against her lips, that was echoed by her heartbeat.

  She stared at the open doorway he’d disappeared through and at Margaret, who was staring at her with a mixture of incredulity and what strangely seemed like fear. And the
n she looked at Cyrus, who was grinning at her like a fool.

  ‘Cupcake?’ he asked, pushing the door firmly shut with his foot.

  Chapter 24

  Evie was counting the notches on the bedpost, trying not to think about what they represented – just trying to keep her head occupied with anything other than thoughts of Lucas. Because each time he flashed into her mind, in the space between numbers, it was as if someone was stabbing her in the heart with a pitchfork. And if it took until she’d counted to infinity to keep that pain at bay, then that’s what she would do. But at fifty-six she stopped counting and rolled over, pressing her face into the pillow, taking a deep shuddering breath in. Infinity was hopeless.

  There was just the faintest smell of him – the smoke from the fire last night, a trace of warm leather and cool air that made her think of late summer dusks. She felt her stomach contract, seeding an ache that spread quickly into her limbs, lighting fires in her joints. Why had she let him go? She hadn’t argued enough. If she’d managed to hold onto him then maybe he wouldn’t have left. She kicked her foot against the bedpost and heard a crack as the wood splintered.

  She sat up and examined the deep rent that had opened up in the post holding up the bunk above her. Then she looked at her foot. She was getting stronger. She’d thought that was just a tap. She wondered idly what damage she could do if she really put some force behind it. It surprised her. When Jocelyn and Victor had talked about her making her first kill and the changes that would happen as a result she’d assumed they were talking metaphorically. That murdering something, even if that thing was already as cold and dead as a Thirster, would take something from you – a large chunk of your humanity say – leaving you more able to kill the next time. Like eating ice cream when you’re on a diet. After that first tortured, guilt-ridden mouthful the rest of the tub went down pretty easily.

  She flopped back onto the bed and resumed counting, trying to empty her mind of sex and death. The twin obsessions of adolescence. She was such a cliché.

  ‘Do you want to eat?’

  She turned her head. Cyrus was hovering in the doorway, arms casually folded.

  ‘No,’ she answered, turning back to stare at the bedpost, hoping he’d take the hint and leave.

  He didn’t. He strolled into the room and over to the bed, resting his hands on the bunk above and leaning so he was looking down on her. ‘OK, so you don’t want to eat. How about fight? Do you want to fight?’

  ‘With you?’

  He fought a smile. ‘I was thinking we could go and find ourselves some nice unsuspecting unhumans for you to vent some of that frustration out on. Or,’ he said with a grin, ‘you can work it out on me. I could help you relax a little. You know, maybe a nice massage – a bath, some candles – fill the gaps that Lucas left behind.’ His eyes trailed down her body as he spoke, landing on the notches on the bedpost. She watched the grin fade and a frown take its place as he noticed the crack she’d made.

  She sat up quickly. ‘Don’t you think that’s a bit dumb?’

  ‘What?’ he asked, his attention flying back to her. ‘Getting you to relax? No, I think you could really use it.’

  ‘No, I mean going out looking for trouble right now, when half the universe is searching for me.’

  ‘Don’t over-dramatise. It’s not half the universe. Just seven realms. Six really, because the Sybll won’t be looking for you. They’ll already have seen you and generally speaking they stay out of things. ‘And,’ he sighed, ‘what else are we going to do? You won’t eat. You don’t want me to take you to bed and show you what you’re missing. So the alternative is just sitting here twiddling our thumbs waiting for lover boy to come back and, you know,’ he shook his head grimly, ‘the odds of that happening are rapidly dwindling.’

  Evie swung her legs over the side of the bed and shoved Cyrus aside as she stood.

  He took two laughing steps backwards, holding up his hands. ‘Hey – I’m just saying. So, given the lack of other options I think we should do some of our own investigating. Find out what’s happening in the realms. Maybe we can catch ourselves a newbie virgin to this realm and help him pop his cherry. What do you say? Come on,’ he wheedled. ‘What was all that crap you were spouting about the prophecy being marked? That means it’s definitely going to come true, right? Which means you’re invincible. You said it yourself. So what’s the problem?’ Evie heard him approaching softly, then felt his breath against her neck. ‘Scared I’ll show you up in a fight?’ he whispered in her ear.

  She whipped around, reeling from his closeness. ‘OK, I’ll get dressed,’ she said, feeling both mad and flustered.

  She watched him as he left the room, wearing a smug smile, and then she went over to the door and slammed it shut, pushing a chair in front of it, pre-empting his undoubted return in a few seconds’ time with the excuse that he’d got lost on the way to the bathroom.

  Lucas had stashed the bag with the clothes that Issa had brought inside the closet. Evie pulled out the selection and started sorting through the pile. She hated to admit it, but Issa had actually done a really good job. The clothes both fitted her and were things she’d buy herself – as opposed to jeans that should come with a thrombosis warning and underwear worn as outerwear. Gone, she realised, were the days of freebie designer handouts. Still, what was the point of wearing thousand-dollar couture to go out hunting in when what was needed was utilitarian black to hide the bloodstains? And, voilà, in the bag she found a pair of black jeans and a long-sleeved dark-grey T-shirt. Even the underwear came in her size and was black. She slipped on the grey Converse Issa had provided. They worked better than heels too. At least she could run in them.

  ‘Thank you, Issa,’ she whispered.

  Frankly, she was more than a little freaked out by the fact Lucas had dated a Sybll, but even more freaked out that that same Sybll had foreseen her need for a toothbrush and black underwear. What else had Issa seen? That was what was really bugging her. She knew that Issa hadn’t just come around to drop off some clothes and toiletries. She’d come to tell Lucas something. And the fact he hadn’t told her what, meant that it was something bad.

  The door rattled, catching on the chair she’d put in front of it. She heard Cyrus grunt.

  ‘I’m getting dressed,’ she yelled.

  ‘Just thought I’d hurry you up,’ he called from behind the door.

  She didn’t answer. She was glancing in the mirror hanging on the back of the door. With her amped-up eyesight she could see the pulse of an artery in her neck fluttering and each tiny crack in her lips, which were bruised dark-red and chapped.

  She squashed the bag up with a sigh and rammed it back into the closet, then she pulled the chair out of the way and left the room to go start a fight with some unhumans. And maybe with Cyrus too, just for the hell of it.

  Cyrus was in the kitchen, standing against the counter with a butcher’s knife in his hand. He was running it up and down a stone block, causing blue sparks to rain down on him. He looked up when she walked in and flashed her a smile which she knew was meant to have some kind of dazzling effect over her. But all it managed to induce in her was annoyance.

  She glanced around, looking for Vero and Ash. She hadn’t seen them or heard anything all day. Was it just going to be her and Cyrus out on the prowl tonight? She kind of hoped not. Though being in close proximity to Vero and Ash wasn’t high on her list of priorities either.

  Finally, Cyrus finished sharpening and pushed the blade into a sheath, the shining eyes and unstoppable grin giving away the excitement he was feeling.

  ‘You like it, don’t you?’ Evie asked, frowning at him. ‘I mean, going out killing them? Why else would you do it?’

  He gave her a confused, faintly amused smile. ‘I do it because a – it’s fun, and b – err …’ He blew air out of his mouth and shook his head. ‘No, that’s it.’

  ‘Why’s everything a joke to you?’

  ‘Why’s everything so serious to you?’<
br />
  She could feel her nostrils flaring. Together with the rolling eyeballs, she was starting to feel like a hostile horse whenever she was around him. So unattractive. She tried to wrestle back some control of her facial expressions.

  ‘Listen, Evie,’ Cyrus said, ‘people would be thanking me if they knew I’ve been keeping the streets clear of bloodsucking Thirsters and things that go burn in the night. I think they’d be thanking me profusely.’ He walked over to a hook on the wall by the door and pulled off a leather belt with pouches and straps attached to it, then looped it over his head. Very guerrilla Boy Scout, Evie thought as she watched him attach the knife to it.

  ‘Well, I’m surprised you aren’t going around advertising the fact,’ she said. ‘Your ego sure could use a boost.’

  He laughed off the comment. ‘None of them belong here. But there’s too many of them for us to kill. So we focus on the worst ones – the ones who go around killing people or, you know, just sucking their blood for a good time: the Mixen, Scorpio, Thirsters and Shadow Warriors. We tend to let the Shifters go. And the Sybll.’

  ‘Because you couldn’t catch one if you tried.’

  Cyrus stepped closer, his eyes a bright aquamarine colour under the spotlights in the kitchen. She couldn’t help but stare at the brown slash in his iris. It was interesting, like a crack in a stone revealing quartz or diamonds inside, though she wasn’t sure that what lay beneath Cyrus’s shallow exterior was quite so dazzling or priceless.

  ‘It’s the final reckoning that counts,’ Cyrus said, distracting her from his eyes. ‘When you die – did you do more harm than good? Did you die with honour?’

  She swallowed and he turned on his heel. He went over to the kitchen counter again and started rummaging through the drawers.

  ‘How did you and Lucas get together anyway?’ he asked, looking up at her. ‘Match dot com? No, let me guess – unhuman hook-up dot com?’

  ‘Ha ha,’ she answered. ‘No. He was sent to spy on me, then to kill me.’

  Cyrus snorted through his nose. ‘Wow, what a cliché. He came to kill you and fell in love with you instead.’ He threw her a cringe face. ‘This could be a film script for a movie with one of those sparkly vampires in.’ He kept shaking his head and laughing and she felt her teeth grinding in response. ‘How romantic,’ he went on. ‘Stupid, but romantic. I’ll give him that. So you fell for the Shadow Warrior?’

 
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