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       Severed, p.15

           Sarah Alderson
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  ‘It wasn’t far from here, you know,’ Ash said, interrupting her internal rationalisations. ‘We’d been to a party. Got talking to these two girls. I thought they were some emo kids. Next thing my friend’s making out with one, except he’s not making out with her – she’s eating him. You hear me?’

  ‘I’m sorry,’ Evie whispered.

  ‘That night I found out that it takes a lot to kill a Thirster. I wasn’t armed. Just had these.’ He indicated his hands and his legs. ‘I got away but that was about it. The next night I went back with a handmade flamethrower and a stake. I found them. Found out stakes don’t work, neither does garlic or holy water. But flames do. I killed them. It got easier after the first one. You know? I was stronger, faster. That was unexpected but useful. I kept going out every night. Discovered the acid skin ones and the ones with the tails. Killed a few of them too. One night I met Cyrus doing the same.’

  And you’ve never looked back. Evie filled in the blank.

  ‘And you had no idea you were – um – one of us?’ she asked instead. ‘A Hunter I mean? Before you met Cyrus?’

  Ash laughed a bitter laugh. ‘No. Freaky co-incidence. right?’

  She shook her head. ‘I don’t believe in co-incidence anymore.’

  The door on Evie’s side suddenly flew open, making her jump. Cyrus thrust a greasy brown-paper bag in her face. ‘Here you are – one bacon double cheese and large fries. Got you full-fat Coke too, figured you’re not one of those girls who needs to watch her weight.’

  She took the bag gingerly between her fingers before it could spill in her lap and twisted back around so she was facing forwards.

  Cyrus walked around the car and got in beside her. He paused to put his chocolate milkshake in the cup holder and to take a bite out of his burger, then he turned the key in the ignition and spun them out of the lot and back onto the street. They only drove a couple of blocks before he hung another right and pulled into a deserted lot opposite a fried-chicken joint.

  ‘Are we doing a fast-food crawl or something?’ Evie asked.

  ‘Nope. We’re staking out that building over there.’ Cyrus nodded with his chin towards a building on the corner that looked vaguely familiar. It stood about five stories high and looked like it had been modelled on a Renaissance palazzo. It had a brown-brick façade with lots of square windows, which were all dark at this time of night. The ground floor was a row of shop fronts and on the corner, beneath a high stone arch, stood the main door.

  ‘I know that building,’ Evie said, squinting and trying to place it.

  ‘It’s the Bradbury building,’ Cyrus answered. ‘It’s famous, not just to unhumans. They’ve used it in a lot of movies. It’s also home to the internal affairs department of the LA Police Department. As well as to Subway, Kinko’s and …’ he paused, noticing the takeaway bag sitting on her lap unopened. ‘Are you not eating that?’

  She shook her head.

  ‘Such waste,’ he tutted, finishing his burger and screwing up the wrapper before helping himself to hers.

  ‘The way through is in that building?’ Evie asked, unable to keep the disbelief out of her voice.

  ‘Yeah, in the basement. They built right on top without even realising it was there. The unhumans were guarding it then, and are still guarding it now.’

  ‘But how do people come in and out? Unhumans I mean? Without being seen?’

  ‘There’s a fancy-dress shop in the basement.’

  ‘Ha ha.’

  ‘No, I’m being serious. It’s a cover. A pretty damn good one.’

  ‘Not that the virgins ever know how to dress.’

  Evie twisted to look at Vero who was leaning forward, her hands gripping Cyrus’s headrest as she stared out of the window, watching the building.

  ‘We should just blast in there,’ Ash suddenly announced.

  Vero spun around. ‘Don’t be stupid, Ash.’

  He shrugged and she huffed in response and turned back to the window. Evie thought about taking her knife and cutting the tension between them.

  ‘Have you ever?’ Evie asked. ‘Been in and seen it, that is?’

  ‘No, of course we haven’t,’ Vero spat. ‘Not even an army of Hunters could get close.’

  Evie paused to recover from the scorn she’d just been slapped with. ‘Why not?’

  ‘They guard this place like they’re guarding the Ark of the Covenant,’ Cyrus answered. ‘At least two Shadow Warriors, a handful of Thirsters, one or two Scorpio and several Mixen are down there at any one time.’

  ‘Let me get this straight,’ Evie snorted. ‘You’re saying that, right now, just hanging out in the basement of the Bradbury building, there’s a band of unhumans guarding the way through? And the LA Police Department is right above them?’

  ‘Yeah,’ Cyrus answered, slurping a mouthful of milkshake.

  ‘We could take them,’ Ash said quietly from behind.

  Evie felt the panic numbing her, then realised that it was just the Coke wedged between her thighs.

  ‘What’s the point? We don’t know how to shut the thing anyway,’ Cyrus muttered.

  ‘You just don’t want it shut, Cyrus,’ Ash cut in.

  ‘That’s not true.’

  ‘Why wouldn’t he want it shut?’ Evie asked, looking over her shoulder at Ash and then back at Cyrus. ‘Why don’t you want it shut?’

  ‘What’s he going to do for fun when there are no unhumans to slay?’ Vero answered, a bitter edge to her voice.

  ‘Um, get a job maybe? Live a normal life?’ Even as she said it Evie felt the strand of hope she’d been desperately clinging to snap under the weight of her desperation.

  ‘OK, people, enough about me,’ Cyrus said. ‘Tonight is not about fulfilling any prophecy or getting eaten. Tonight we’re just going to have a therapeutic killing spree.’

  The brown bag sitting on Evie’s lap went flying, Coke drenching the dashboard and Cyrus’s leg. He turned and glared at her.

  ‘I thought we were going to find someone to question,’ Evie spluttered.

  ‘Yes, that’s what I said,’ Cyrus answered, grabbing a paper towel and trying to mop up the mess.

  ‘No you didn’t.’

  ‘There’s movement.’ Vero’s whisper cut through their argument. ‘What are they?’

  Evie turned her head at the same time as Cyrus. A hush descended in the car as they watched two people leave the building. One was in a full-length gold-coloured ball gown complete with a white fur wrap. The unhuman she was with was wearing a black tuxedo.

  ‘Shapeshifters I think,’ Cyrus said after a few seconds. ‘Let’s leave them.’

  Evie felt her shoulders drop a fraction of an inch. ‘Why are they dressed like that?’ she asked.

  ‘They don’t know what to wear to blend in, so they take their cue from whatever glossy magazines they have lying around. Most of the time they shift into z-list celebrities.’

  ‘Two more,’ Ash called from the back.

  Evie leant forward. Two people were standing on the top of the steps by the door. One was wearing a luminous-yellow minidress and metallic silver boots that made Evie’s eyes water and the other was wearing a sailor suit. What kind of a fancy-dress shop was this place?

  ‘Mixen,’ she heard Vero whisper behind her.

  ‘God, they’re so obvious,’ Cyrus said, sucking the last of his milkshake up through his straw. ‘Isn’t there some corrective foundation they could use?’

  ‘Want to go for them?’ Vero asked.

  ‘Tempting. If only to stop them walking the streets in those outfits. Ash, what do you think?’ Cyrus asked.

  ‘Wait – behind them – look,’ Ash answered.

  Three more people had left the building, their heads jerking left and right as they took in the darkened street. One threw back the hood of the sweater she was wearing and Evie inhaled loud enough to make Cyrus turn and smirk. The girl had long dark hair, but it was the paleness of her skin and the red rims of her eyes that made
Evie’s stomach flip over.

  Thirsters. The other two were wearing caps, their faces buried in shadow but their hands were in view; blue veined and white skinned. Evie’s own hands had started to turn clammy. She wiped them on the seat.

  ‘Thirsters,’ Vero said.

  ‘OK,’ Cyrus said softly, ‘we have a target.’

  ‘Wait,’ Evie said, grasping his arm. ‘What if someone sees?’ she asked. It was late but there were still people – humans – out walking around.

  ‘We’ll call it performance art and I’ll hold out my hat for small change,’ Cyrus answered.

  Chapter 26

  By the time Evie had fumbled with the door and climbed out, the others were already by the trunk loading up with weapons. She hurried around to them.

  ‘What’s the plan?’ she asked, watching Cyrus pass the crossbow to Vero, who took it and then, with delicate fingers sheathed in some gloves, prised three arrows out of their plastic shield and lined them up in the ridges of the bow. Ash stood behind her, flexing his shoulders.

  ‘What’s the plan, Vero?’ Cyrus asked, slamming the trunk shut.

  Vero barely raised her focus from the bow. ‘Ash will take them down, I’ll fire these through them and, Cyrus, you can light the match.’

  Evie held onto the car to steady herself.

  ‘Sound OK?’ Cyrus said, glancing at her. ‘You can sit this one out if you want.’

  ‘What about questioning them? I thought we were going to question them?’

  ‘Oh, yeah, good point. I’ll hold fire on the fire while you ask the questions.’

  He didn’t wait for her to agree. He strode across the lot, sticking to the areas of ground where the light didn’t reach. The unhumans over on the other side of the street hadn’t noticed them. They were stopping at every shopfront to stare.

  ‘First time through, you can tell,’ Ash said under his breath. ‘And not just by the fashion.’

  ‘How?’ Evie asked.

  ‘They’re moving too fast – haven’t learnt to slow their pace to look more human.’

  ‘How do you know so much about them?’ Evie asked.

  Cyrus grinned at her over his shoulder. ‘We sometimes have Q & A sessions with obliging unhumans.’

  ‘Q & A sessions? You mean you beat them up until they tell you what you want to know?’

  Cyrus shrugged. ‘Something like that.’

  ‘OK, let’s move before they hit the subway,’ Ash interrupted. ‘Ready V?’

  ‘Oh yeah,’ Vero answered, unslinging the crossbow and sliding like vapour into the shadows running up the side of the street.

  Evie turned back to Ash but he was already gone. The street was deserted. Cyrus took hold of her arm and pulled her quickly across the road. They were about a hundred metres behind the Thirsters, who were walking faster now – so fast Evie and Cyrus had to jog to keep up.

  ‘Where are we …?’ Evie started to ask, but Cyrus put a finger to his lips and yanked her towards a fire escape at the side of a building. She started climbing, Cyrus hot on her heels, his eyes level with her butt – a deliberate move on his part, she thought. She climbed faster until she was able to swing her leg over a low wall and pull herself onto the flat roof of the building. Cyrus jumped the wall in the next instant and took her hand, pulling her at a sprint to the far side of the roof. She noticed how much faster she could run now. They’d covered fifty metres in less than two seconds. Ducking down, they peered over the edge. They’d overtaken the Thirsters, who were now just drawing parallel beneath them.

  Cyrus pointed silently across the street. There, tucked into the shadows between two parked cars, crouched down on one knee with the crossbow resting on her shoulder, was Vero.

  Cyrus nudged Evie’s arm, directing her attention to another person walking along the sidewalk, heading straight towards the Thirsters. It was Ash. He’d circled around the Thirsters to come at them from the front. Evie wondered at how fast he must have run to outpace them all and double back like that, but then her attention swung back to the scene below.

  Ash had drawn up in front of the three Thirsters. Evie leant further out over the parapet so she could see, but from this height she couldn’t hear the question that stopped the Thirsters in their tracks. She heard a cackling laugh in response though and her hands tightened instinctively around the hilt of Lucas’s blade. She hadn’t even realised she had drawn it from its sheath, and the sight of it gleaming in the moonlight was somehow reassuring. Her body was vibrating with adrenaline. She was sure she must be shaking the foundations of the building. Cyrus must have felt it too because his hand closed around her forearm, stilling her. He shook his head slightly, warning her to not make a sound or a move.

  The thunking sound came next. It was a sound so shockingly familiar and so horrific that Evie almost screamed. She clamped her balled fist to her mouth and stared. The three Thirsters had been shot simultaneously by Vero. Two had been hit in the chest and one in the neck.

  The one who’d been hit through the neck had been carried several metres and was impaled against the wall, her feet dangling several feet off the ground.

  The second was lying spreadeagled on the sidewalk, shrieking loud enough to rattle the metal fire escape. Ash cut the scream off with a kick to the solar plexus.

  The third Thirster was collapsed on the ground, his mouth opening and shutting repeatedly, like a fish gasping for water, as he tried to pull the arrow shaft out from between his ribs.

  Cyrus stood up swiftly, swung a leg over the parapet and disappeared. Evie watched him slide effortlessly down the drainpipe and drop to the ground below. He looked up at Evie and beckoned her to follow.

  Evie sheathed her knife, climbed over the parapet and shimmied down, her hands burning against the plastic as she picked up speed. Cyrus caught her as she landed, pulling her out of the way of one of the Thirsters who lunged across the sidewalk, fingers grasping for her foot.

  ‘So you want to ask some questions? Go ahead,’ Cyrus said, pulling out the bottle of lighter fluid.

  Evie stepped carefully around the two on the ground and headed towards the one dangling from the wall.

  ‘You might want to hurry it up,’ Cyrus said calmly. ‘We have incoming pedestrians at twelve o’clock.’

  Evie glanced up. Bearing down on them, about two hundred metres away, were two humans. Crap. She turned back to the Thirster pinned to the wall.

  ‘Um, what do you know about the White Light?’ she asked.

  The Thirster’s eyes grew round and her mouth opened into a gaping hole, exposing black gums and dripping yellow fangs. She shut her mouth and tried again but no sound came out except for a gurgling hiss. Some bloody spittle landed on Evie’s shoes and she stepped backwards.

  ‘I think you might want to try asking one that doesn’t have an arrow through its neck,’ Vero suggested. She was holding the crossbow vertical, pointing it downwards at the Thirster writhing on the ground by her feet.

  Evie crouched down a safe distance away from the girl on the ground and tried again, struggling to be heard over the hissing. ‘What do you know about the White Light?’ she asked.

  A thin smile split the Thirster’s lips, a trail of blood trickled out of the corner of her mouth and she paused to lick it. ‘The White Light is going to die,’ the Thirster hissed, wincing as Vero’s booted foot kicked the arrow shaft poking out of her chest. ‘There’s an army coming – an army coming here to find it and destroy it. To destroy all the Hunters.’

  Evie fell back on her haunches, the breath caught in her lungs, her head spinning. An army? As in battalions of unhumans, with weapons and some unhuman general in charge of them, coming here? To find her?

  Cyrus was suddenly next to her, kneeling, his hands pressing the Thirster to the ground. ‘How many in this army?’ he demanded.

  ‘Five thousand. More. You won’t be able to stop them.’ The Thirster laughed, her head lolling back on the sidewalk.

  ‘When are they coming?’ Cyrus as
ked, his knee ramming her chest and knocking the arrow shaft, forcing her eyes to fly open and a scream to explode from her mouth.

  ‘Two days, maybe sooner,’ she grimaced, her teeth breaking through the stretched skin of her lips, making a fresh stream of blood flow down her chin. ‘This realm no longer belongs to you. Once the Hunters are all finished there’ll be no one left to stop us.’

  ‘Well,’ Cyrus said, dropping his face until it was just a centimetre above hers. ‘Newsflash. We’re not Hunters. We’re something else entirely. And this army you think is going to take us is not even going to make it through because the Gateway is going to be closed for business.’

  He flicked something over in his hand and Evie saw liquid cascading over the Thirster’s face into her open mouth and dousing her clothes. The Thirster struggled, choking and coughing. Cyrus jumped to his feet, shaking the remains of the lighter fluid over the other two Thirsters. Cyrus stepped backwards, flicking open his Zippo lighter. ‘Thanks for the chat. Peace out,’ he said, smiling grimly. Then he dropped the lighter.

  Evie scrambled backwards as the blue flames licked towards her. The Thirsters ignited into balls of squealing flames, their screams cut off almost instantly, the flames dying down as the bodies burnt to nothing. Thick black smoke started billowing around them.

  Evie felt a hand on her arm and then, without warning, she found herself being dragged along, the stench of burning flesh and acrid smoke scoring her throat.

  They were suddenly back at the car and the others were flinging their weapons into the trunk, but Evie stood on the sidewalk staring back at the smoking piles of ash. The humans they’d seen walking towards them had stopped to gape, their feet kicking at the remains. One had drawn out a cell phone.

  ‘Come on, get in,’ Cyrus yelled. Evie turned. The car was revving and Cyrus had flung open the passenger door.

  She glanced back at the humans standing over the smouldering remains and then climbed in beside Cyrus. An army was coming in just two days, she thought numbly – an army of unhumans. They were coming for her. And they’d go through whoever stood in their way. Issa had never mentioned an army. Why hadn’t she said something? She must have seen it coming. Evie stared out of the windshield unseeing, not registering the flashing blue and red lights that flew past them, thinking only of Lucas. Maybe Issa had told him. Maybe that’s what she’d come to tell him the other day. It made sense. As did Lucas lying to her about it. He wouldn’t have wanted to worry her.

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