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       Severed, p.22

           Sarah Alderson
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  ‘Mum, you got it back, OK?’ Cyrus said, marching past her. ‘Evie, do you have the keys?’ he asked.

  She nodded and threw them to him. They piled the weapons in the trunk and then squeezed in. Evie took the passenger seat before anyone could stop her, reaching for the seat belt out of habit as Cyrus put the car into drive.

  Margaret, who was sitting behind her, reached forwards and pressed the lock down on Evie’s door. Evie let go of the seat belt and twisted in her seat, about to yell something at Margaret, but her words were cut off as Cyrus slammed on the brakes and she was thrown against the dashboard. Evie jumped around in her seat, her hand reaching for the saw blade.

  ‘Shit,’ Cyrus yelled, staring straight ahead at the figure standing right in the middle of the warehouse. ‘Who the hell is she?’

  Chapter 40

  Evie was first out of the car. She stared at the girl, who had appeared out of nowhere and who was now standing in front of the car, motionless and frozen-faced as one of the mannequins in Victor’s boutique.

  ‘Who are you?’ Cyrus asked, jumping out the car a second after Evie, the others quickly following suit.

  Evie turned to him, catching a glimpse of something metallic in his hand. She held a hand up to still him. ‘It’s Issa,’ she said.

  ‘The Sybll from the Brotherhood?’ Cyrus asked, levelling his gun at Issa’s head.

  ‘No,’ Evie answered. She thought for one moment about telling Cyrus to drop his weapon, but then changed her mind. ‘It’s Lucas’s ex.’

  Cyrus darted a startled look in her direction. ‘He dated a Sybll?’

  Evie didn’t answer. She stepped around her door and walked towards Issa. ‘What are you doing here?’ she asked. Issa was staring at her with eyes so large they resembled two pale-blue moons floating in an oval of winter-white sky. But more striking than that was the fact they were filled with more fear than Evie knew how to handle. ‘What’s happened?’ she heard herself asking.

  ‘Not what has happened,’ Issa answered her. ‘That’s not why I’m here. It’s what’s going to happen if you don’t listen to me.’

  ‘Is it Lucas?’ Evie asked, feeling her heart hammering wildly. ‘Is that why you’re here? Is something going to happen to him?’

  ‘Yes,’ Issa answered.

  ‘But this was supposed to protect him,’ Evie whispered, feeling the panic building inside her. ‘I’m doing this to protect him.’ She scanned the warehouse as if she could find an answer or a way out, hidden in one of its dusty corners. ‘Does he know already that I’ve gone? That it was Jamieson and not me?’ she asked, her eyes flying back to Issa.

  ‘Did you really think that he’d not be able to see through a Shapeshifter?’ Issa answered, her tone so snide that it made Evie wince.

  ‘I tried, OK?’ she said, feeling a dull anger start to stir. ‘I didn’t know what else to do.’

  ‘Listen,’ Cyrus cut in, suddenly in front of Issa, ‘Are you going to tell us what you came here for because, if not, we need to be on our way. We have a date with destiny we really have to keep.’

  ‘Your date with destiny is more like a date with death,’ Issa shot back.

  Cyrus opened and shut his mouth.

  ‘As it stands,’ Issa continued, ‘you’re planning to assault from the front of the building. If you do that none of you will make it through the door.’

  Cyrus swore loudly.

  Issa pointed at Vero who had come to stand just behind Cyrus’s shoulder. ‘You get killed by a Thirster,’ she told her.

  Vero’s face paled.

  ‘A Shadow Warrior is going to kill you,’ Issa went on, turning and nodding at Ash, who was standing by the car door. ‘Your mother,’ she said, circling back to Cyrus, ‘gets killed before she even gets out of the car.’

  Evie heard Margaret gasp behind her.

  ‘And Lucas?’ Evie cut in. ‘What happens to him? Is he going to get hurt?’

  Issa didn’t answer her. She didn’t need to. The look on her face was answer enough.

  ‘No,’ Evie whispered, tears burning the back of her eyes.

  ‘And it will be pointless,’ Issa hissed. ’They’ll all die for nothing. You won’t close the way through. You won’t even get near it.’

  ‘But I thought it was a done deal?’ Ash blurted. ‘She’s the White Light. She has to end it. Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen?’

  Issa turned to him. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘but it’s never been known for sure when she ends it exactly. It should have happened already.’

  ‘Well, why hasn’t it?’ he asked, staring at Evie, confused.

  ‘Because she fell in love with someone she shouldn’t have.’

  Evie glared at Issa. You don’t get to choose, she thought angrily to herself. She didn’t get to choose anything. She never had. Least of all falling in love with Lucas.

  ‘It has to be tonight,’ Margaret said desperately, pushing past Evie to confront Issa.

  ‘Well, if you want it to be tonight you’d better listen to me,’ Issa answered, shooting her a withering look.

  ‘Why should we trust you?’ Cyrus demanded.

  ‘I thought Sybll stayed out of unhuman affairs?’ Ash added.

  ‘We can trust her. She’s doing this to protect Lucas,’ Evie said quietly. ‘That’s why she’s here. To save him.’

  Evie understood it completely. And a part of her – the part not hating Issa – was actually grateful.

  Cyrus whistled through his teeth and shook his head. ‘What is it about him? What is it that makes you females of all the species lose the plot so entirely?’

  ‘Listen to her. We need to listen to her,’ Evie said, ignoring him again.

  ‘OK, OK, I’m listening,’ Cyrus huffed.

  ‘If you promise that you won’t hurt him I’ll tell you everything I see,’ Issa answered.

  ‘For God’s sake!’ Cyrus shouted, his head rolling back and groaning at the ceiling. ‘Not you too. We already swore this.’

  ‘I know,’ Issa answered. ‘Swear it again.’

  ‘We swear we won’t hurt Lucas,’ Cyrus said in a bored, singsong voice.

  ‘Now or in the future,’ Issa said, narrowing her eyes. ‘And believe me,’ she added, ‘I’ll know if you even plan to, and I’ll come and find you. And I’ll pre-empt your every move.’

  ‘I didn’t think Sybll were violent,’ Cyrus said pulling a face at her. ‘You’re sure undoing the stereotype, sweetheart.’

  ‘Issa, please – tell us what we need to do,’ Evie interrupted, hating how desperate she sounded, and hating too the way Issa turned to her – her owl-like eyes filled to overflowing with blame. Evie stalled, words dissolving on her lips. Wasn’t she doing enough? What more was she supposed to do? Besides kill herself?

  ‘Can you please start talking before the sun goes down and our problems get a whole load more fanged?’ Cyrus asked, glancing at his watch. ‘Do you think that might be possible?

  Issa nodded. ‘OK, yes, let’s try,’ she said.

  ‘Try?’ Evie said, feeling her frustration mounting. ‘What do you mean, try?’

  ‘I need you all to start rethinking your moves. We need to see how that changes things.’

  ‘You mean you can’t just tell us what to do?’ Vero asked, frustration biting at the edge of her voice.

  ‘Not completely, no. The visions change as you each decide to do things differently.’

  ‘OK, so start,’ Cyrus snapped. ‘Do that weird eye thing that you Sybll do.’

  Issa glared at him for a moment before taking a step forward. She gripped Cyrus’s arm in one hand and Evie’s in the other and closed her eyes. When she opened them a second later the blue irises were filmed with white.

  ‘Lucas is going to be waiting on the north corner,’ Issa said, her pupils starting to move rapidly under their milk-coloured blankets as if she was in a deep sleep.

  ‘So we come from the south corner? The back entrance?’ Ash asked, leaning forwards over the car bonnet

  ‘Yes,’ Issa said, before pausing and then nodding her head slowly. ‘OK, it’s changing. You all make it out of the car alive.’

  Evie heard Margaret sighing with relief behind her.

  ‘Park by the fried-chicken place,’ Issa went on, her eyes flickering wildly. ‘But be careful. The two kids in uniform – they’re not human. They’re Scorpio.’

  ‘I’ll take them down,’ Ash said quietly.

  Issa nodded, ‘Yes, you do.’

  Evie stared at her and then at her long, pale fingers circling her wrist. How was she seeing all this? Was it playing out like a movie in her mind? Could she rewind and replay at will?

  ‘Evie, stay close to Cyrus,’ Issa said next, her head swivelling towards Evie and a frown wrinkling her brow. She hesitated, seeing something that Evie didn’t want to imagine, something that caused a deep shudder to run up her body. ‘Stay behind Cyrus,’ she said more firmly.

  Cyrus looked back over his shoulder at Evie. ‘Are you hearing the lady?’ he asked.

  ‘Yes,’ she murmured. ‘Stay behind you. Understood.’ She tried not to imagine why she needed to stay behind Cyrus. What the hell was going to be in front of him?

  ‘OK, Cyrus, there’s a Scorpio just inside the door,’ Issa went on.

  ‘Left or right?’ Cyrus asked quickly.

  ‘Your right.’

  He nodded. ‘Got it.’

  Issa smiled, ‘Yes, you get it.’ The smile faded instantly. She flinched. ‘Vero, that’s your name isn’t it? Watch your back. And take what’s in front of you.’

  Vero shuffled from foot to foot. ‘OK,’ she whispered, shooting Ash a questioning glance.

  ‘Once you’re inside, keep walking. Don’t stop. Don’t look back.’ She paused for a second before continuing. ‘There are three Thirsters in the lobby.’ She looked at Vero, her eyes suddenly flashing back to blue, and gave her a bemused smile before her eyes blanked out once more. ‘Stay together,’ she said. ‘It’s important you all stay together. There are six Thirsters waiting downstairs guarding the door, and two Mixen, a Scorpio and, whoa …’ She broke off, her whole body jolting as though she’d been shot with a charge of electricity.

  ‘What?’ Evie and Cyrus shouted at the same time.

  Issa squinted, turning her head rapidly left and right. ‘It’s chaos. I can’t see clearly. Things keep shifting. There are Shadow Warriors. I can’t see them. Ash, Ash is fighting them.’ Issa suddenly threw her head sideways, wincing hard.

  ‘What? What is it?’ Vero shouted.

  ‘Nothing, he’ll be fine,’ Issa answered, glancing at Evie in appraisal.

  Evie squeezed her eyes shut and felt the ground swaying dangerously beneath her feet, only Issa’s grip on her keeping her upright. ‘After I – afterwards – what happens to Lucas? Does he get away?’

  ‘I can’t see,’ Issa said quietly, her hands dropping finally to her sides. ‘There are too many other choices in the way. His choices. And I’m losing my connection to Lucas.’ Evie didn’t miss the way Issa’s nostrils flared in her direction. ‘It’s still unclear what his future holds.’

  Evie felt all of a sudden like screaming – drowning everyone in her screams. All this then might be pointless. Lucas might die anyway. All the subterfuge and the lies – it might all have been for nothing. He might still die because of her.

  ‘Evie,’ Issa said quietly as if she could hear the screams going on inside Evie’s head. ‘You doing this at least gives him a chance at a future – a future he could never have with you. And I promise you, after today I’ll stay with him. I’ll warn him of anything coming. I’ll keep him safe.’

  Evie thought her head might explode with the rage that was pounding the inside of her skull.

  ‘Well, I’m more concerned about my future and the future of every other human on the planet,’ Cyrus butted in. ‘If we do it your way, like you’ve said, does it stop this army of unhumans coming through?’

  Issa nodded. ‘Yes, I think so.’

  ‘You think so?’

  ‘Unless someone does something that changes it. What I’ve just told you is the future as it stands right now in this instant. For some reason I can’t see what happens after Evie walks through.’

  ‘Oh, for God’s sake,’ Cyrus growled. ‘So if someone makes a last-minute and totally unexpected decision that you haven’t seen yet – if someone changes their mind and dodges left instead of right, or if a butterfly somewhere in a rainforest in Brazil bats its wings, for instance … If that happens, which undoubtedly it will, everything will change. Is that what you’re saying? That it’s probably not going to happen like you’ve seen it happen?’

  ‘Yes,’ Issa admitted after a few seconds’ pause.

  ‘Well, what good is that?’ yelled Margaret, slamming a hand down on the car roof. ‘What point is there in listening to any of this?’ She turned away in disgust. ‘What a waste of time. We should have left already. We could be on our way. The way through could already be closed.’

  I could already be dead, Evie thought to herself.

  ‘No. There’s a point,’ Cyrus interrupted, speaking in a firm voice. ‘It’s better than not knowing anything – than walking into this completely blind.’ Suddenly he paused before reeling around. ‘But let’s shorten the odds even more in our favour. Get in the car,’ he ordered Issa.

  ‘What?’ Issa stuttered.

  ‘You’re coming with us,’ Cyrus announced. ‘I want an RSS feed as we’re fighting. I want to know second by second what’s coming at us. That tips the odds in our favour.’

  ‘I’m not allowed to interfere,’ Issa said, taking a step backwards, her eyes widening. ‘If they find out …’ she whispered.

  ‘You just did interfere. By coming here you interfered. Who are you talking about anyway? The Elders? Why are you worried about them? It’s not like they’ll ever be able to catch up with you. And, besides, don’t you want to make sure I don’t change my mind about killing the Shadow Warrior?’ He took a step towards her, his tone becoming low and menacing. ‘Split-second decisions and all.’

  Issa shut her mouth and stared at him, her eyes becoming milky-white once more as she tried to scan the future.

  ‘You’ll have more chance of saving Lucas if you come with us, right?’ Cyrus pressed.

  Her eyes faded back to blue. ‘Yes,’ she finally admitted, glowering at him.

  Cyrus turned back to the car and walked around to the door, throwing it open for her. ‘So get in,’ he said.

  Chapter 41

  ‘Let me get this straight. Everything you told us just now might be complete and utter horseshit? Is that right?’ Cyrus asked as he crunched through the gears. His eyes were fixed on the rear-view mirror where Issa sat wedged uncomfortably beside Ash. Evie was this time squashed up against the car door beside Vero. Margaret had stolen the passenger seat. No concessions for the girl with the noose around her neck.

  ‘No,’ said Issa, obviously struggling to keep her tone even. ‘I keep telling you that’s the future as it stands, but if you’d let me concentrate I could keep you updated on any changes.’

  ‘But in the heat of battle how’s that even possible? Decisions get made in snap seconds, in the instants between seconds. But how would you know that? You’ve never been in a fight, right?’

  Evie gripped the door handle as they swerved around a corner.

  ‘I know how these things work,’ Issa answered, staring right back at him in the mirror. ‘I’ve been seeing the future since before you were born.’

  ‘How old are you?’ Ash asked.

  Issa sighed. ‘Eighty-three human years old.’

  ‘That’s older than my grandma,’ Ash said, edging away from her. ‘How old do you live to exactly?’

  ‘Old,’ Issa answered, lifting her chin and staring straight ahead.

  ‘How old’s Lucas?’ Vero asked.

  Evie started at the mention of his name.

  ‘Twenty,’ answered Issa. ‘He ages like a human.

  ‘So if Lucas is twenty and you’re like, eighty-three or whatever, doesn’t that make you something of a cradle snatcher?’ Cyrus asked, turning to look at Issa over his shoulder.

  A car swooped out of a side road, almost careering into them. Cyrus spun the wheel, veering into oncoming traffic to avoid it. He righted them with a loud whoop, slinging Evie and the others into each other.

  ‘You,’ Margaret barked at Cyrus, ‘keep your eyes on the road!’ She turned to Issa, ‘And you – keep your eyes on the future!’

  Evie rested her forehead against the headrest in front of her and shut her eyes. She swallowed, feeling her throat constrict as if some clawed demon was squeezing her neck. Keep your eyes on the future. She couldn’t keep her eyes on anything else – what little of it remained seemed to be slipping too fast through her fingers, vanishing as quickly and in more of a blur than the buildings they were speeding past.

  She thought about her mother being woken up in a few hours’ time by a knock on the door. She tried to picture her mum’s reaction. She didn’t need to imagine it. She’d been there when the neighbours had come to tell them about her dad’s accident. It would look something like that. Her mum would collapse to the ground, and her cries would threaten to lift the roof, and the doctor would probably come and prescribe yet more sleeping pills, and her mum, dosed up on Valium, would sit tranqed-up in the church at her funeral, which probably wouldn’t be that full given that Evie had spent the last few months not talking to anyone. Maybe Tom would come. Would Lucas?

  She could hear Ash through the haze in her head, still quizzing Issa about her visions.

  ‘How does it work?’ he was asking. ‘What do you see?”

  Issa sighed heavily, ‘It’s like watching a film. And sometimes you get a bad copy and it’s all fuzzy and the picture’s unclear – that’s because there are too many external factors coming into play and not everything has been decided.’

  ‘So there is free will then? We do have choice?’ Ash asked.

  ‘Yes, of course we all have choice, except in a few cases. There are certain things that are just meant to happen, no matter what we do to try to change them – things like the marked prophecies. There’s no point fighting it then – the destination will always be the same no matter what path we take to get there. But,’ she said, ‘most times we do get to choose the outcome. Like we just got to choose a different outcome for tonight. When you make a choice, you change the future. Only, most people don’t make choices. They follow the path of least resistance. They take the easiest route – the one that doesn’t require courage or thought.’

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