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Fated 02 severed, p.23
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       Fated 02: Severed, p.23

           Sarah Alderson
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  ‘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.’

  Evie opened her eyes and sat back. ‘Lucas said that sometimes in life you have to choose one path over another. He said the hard path leads us past places we don’t want to go.’ Her voice cracked and she struggled to hold it together. ‘But that path brings you to the exact place where you’re supposed to be.’

  ‘He always did believe that,’ Issa said smiling, ‘that we each had a purpose in life.’

  ‘Philosophical discussions parked to one side for one moment,’ Cyrus broke in impatiently, ‘what’s happening in about five minutes from now?’

  Issa fell silent. Evie watched her eyes start swimming under their white coats.

  Suddenly Issa started gasping for air as if she was drowning. Her eyes flashed open. ‘Oh no,’ she gasped, her fingers clawing at the seats.

  Cyrus braked hard. ‘Oh no, what? Oh no, it’s going to rain? Oh no, you see five thousand Thirsters blocking the road up ahead? Oh no, we’re all going to die? What’s oh no?’

  Issa shook her head hard, her eyes still blank. ‘No,’ she said despairingly. ‘Why are they coming?’

  ‘Who?’ Ash asked, his knuckles white on the door handle as he scanned the block. ‘Who’s coming?’

  Issa’s eyes flashed to blue, she blinked and focused. ‘Jamieson and Flic. They were supposed to be leaving. I told them to leave town.’

  ‘Who are they?’ Margaret and Cyrus asked in unison.

  ‘Lucas’s sister and her boyfriend,’ Evie answered, not taking her eyes off Issa. ‘What are they doing?’ she demanded. ‘They were supposed to keep Lucas away.’

  ‘That’s what they’ve come to do,’ Issa snapped. ‘They’re following him to try to stop him.’

  ‘What happens? Does their coming change anything?’ Evie demanded.

  Issa winced, pressing her temples between her hands. ‘I can’t see.’

  ‘Don’t tell me – it’s fuzzy,’ Cyrus said, throwing the car around another corner. ‘Are you sure you wouldn’t lose a fight?’ he asked, his eyes flying to the rear-view mirror. ‘Because I’m willing to try my luck.’

  ‘Shhh, just give her time,’ Vero growled.

  Issa’s eyes flashed open in the same instant. ‘Someone has to stop them,’ she said. ‘We can’t let them get near the building. It’ll all go wrong. Lucas will be distracted.’ She shook her head and Evie didn’t have to ask what kind of wrong she was talking about.

  ‘How do we stop them?’ Cyrus asked, his eyes on the road ahead.

  ‘I’ll do it. I can stop them,’ Issa said sitting forwards, grasping the back of his seat.

  ‘And there you were saying you never interfered,’ Cyrus grinned.

  ‘Let me out,’ Issa snapped. ‘Let me out now. I need to head them off before they get too close.’

  Cyrus studied her in the mirror, ‘If you’re lying to me, Issa, I will put your precog skills to the test. Do you understand?’

  Issa nodded.

  ‘If this doesn’t play out like you said – then …’

  ‘Brake!’ Issa suddenly shouted.

  ‘What?’ Cyrus asked, glancing up.

  ‘Brake!’ Issa yelled at the same time as Margaret.

  Cyrus slammed his foot to the floor, sending Evie flying into the back of the passenger seat.

  ‘Stop signs generally mean stop!’ Margaret shouted as a truck thundered past in front of them.

  Evie whipped around, feeling a sudden gust of wind. The far door was flung open and Issa was already gone.

  Chapter 42

  From where he was standing in a sliver of shadow on the corner opposite the building, he had counted eight Scorpio covering the front entrance; some in police uniform, others pretending to be tourists with cameras slung over their shoulders and guidebooks in their hands. However, their efforts at blending in had failed. In the scorching heat they were wearing floor-length leather jackets to hide their tails. They kind of stood out among all the tourists wearing shorts and T-shirts. The good news was that they hadn’t noticed him yet, partly because he was invisible, hiding in the shadows, but mainly because they were too focused on sensing Hunters. One more unhuman in the vicinity wasn’t pricking their instincts. Being half human also had its advantages. He gave off less of a scent. He glanced at his watch. It was just gone ten in the morning. Something at least to be grateful for – there were no Thirsters to contend with, at least not outside. They were probably all hiding inside. Which meant he couldn’t let Evie step foot in the door.

  He scanned the street for the twentieth time, feeling the anxiety mount with every passing second until he didn’t know if there was more adrenaline or more blood running through his veins. Which way would Evie come from? Would she just try to walk straight in the front entrance? Did she know it was guarded? Would she notice the Shapeshifters? Did she have any idea what kind of protection there was around the way through? Damn it. Damn Flic. Damn Jamieson. Damn Evie for not trusting him. He slipped his hand into his pocket and felt his fingers close around the gold band she’d given to Jamieson to give to him. Then he pulled his hand free and reached for his blade.

  His eyes had been drawn to the top of the Bradbury building. There was a Shadow Warrior stalking the roof. He’d caught the glint of something out of the corner of his eye. There it was again – a shadow blade – catching the morning sunlight slanting off the sides of the surrounding buildings. He narrowed his eyes until she came into view. It was a woman. Dressed all in black. Tall, with dark hair drawn back into a high ponytail. She was crouching in the centre of the roof, leaning over the parapet. As he watched, she lifted something to her shoulder. Lucas swore. It was a crossbow. He’d assumed it was a shadow blade catching the light, but it was an arrow. The Shadow Warrior rested the bow on the ledge and took aim, her arrow pointed downwards at the main entrance to the building. Lucas scanned the street one more time, calculating.

  The Scorpio or the Shadow Warrior?

  He swore under his breath again, casting another anxious glance up the street, on the look-out for any sign of Evie. If he left his position here she might walk straight into danger. But she wasn’t stupid. She could sense unhumans – she wouldn’t walk straight into them. No, he had to go for the Shadow Warrior. But getting onto the roof – that was going to be difficult. The only way up was a fire escape clinging to the west side of the building, accessed by a narrow alleyway. It was being guarded at the bottom by a couple of Scorpio.

  Lucas gripped his knife tighter, waiting until the Shadow Warrior on the roof was distracted. When she looked away, he took his chance and stepped out of the shadows. He crossed the street, shielding his blade from the sunlight. None of the Scorpio dressed as tourists noticed him. Lucas kept walking, melting into the shadows thrown by the building and moving silently down the alley towards the two Scorpio guarding the fire escape. He hesitated just a metre away from them, weighing his decision, before choosing to sheath his blade. The noise brought them both spinning towards him, startled. Lucas brought his right elbow up and rammed it straight into the
first one’s jugular, flooring him, while simultaneously jabbing the second one in the stomach with his fist. As the second Scorpio folded over, clutching his belly, Lucas’s fingers found the cluster of nerves at the nape of his neck and squeezed. The Scorpio collapsed without a sound on top of the first one. Lucas stepped over them, grabbed hold of the metal rung above him and swung himself up onto the fire escape.

  He climbed fast and at the top he ducked down, hidden behind the parapet, and waited, listening. There was just silence. No footsteps, no sound of breathing. He couldn’t even trace a heartbeat. He counted to three and then jumped, clearing the ledge and landing in a crouch, blade outstretched.

  He rolled instantly as an arrow swept past his ear, piercing the brickwork behind him. He was on his feet in the next instant and sprinting forwards towards the woman, who was already pulling back the string on her bow for a second shot. He saw her smile as she let it fly, her mouth twisting into a grimace as he threw himself sideways and the arrow sailed wide.

  She moved fast then, nothing more than a blur, striding backwards even as Lucas kept coming at her. Her left hand reached over her shoulder, drawing a third arrow out of a quiver on her back. She brought the bow up and rammed it into her shoulder, and at just the last moment Lucas threw himself forwards, slamming her to the ground, knocking the wind out of both of them and crushing the bow between their chests. The arrow tip was under her chin, forcing her to arch her head backwards and exposing the pale length of her neck. She was looking up at him – her yellow eyes wolf-like and fearless, challenging him. Lucas hesitated and she saw it. With a grimace she brought her knee up and, with an ear-splitting yell, pushed against him with all her strength. He grunted as his rib cracked, and she heaved a final time, managing to roll from under him.

  Lucas kept his hands locked tight around her upper arms, forcing her to roll with him, their legs entwined. She was straddling him now, with her thighs clamped tight around his waist. Her face loomed over his, her teeth bared, and then her expression changed. A look of surprise brightened her eyes before she collapsed heavily on top of him with a sigh.

  Lucas lay there, feeling her dead weight crushing his broken rib. After a second he heaved her off his chest, and she rolled, one arm flying back and smacking into the concrete, the bow clattering to the ground. Lucas sprang to his feet and stared down. The woman’s neck was exposed, and from this angle it looked like she had a second mouth, gaping wide in a bloody grin. It took a moment for Lucas to realise that her neck had been torn open by the arrow that she was still clutching in her hands and not by his shadow blade.

  He stood over the body, breathing heavily, watching the blood trickle out of her mouth and the tear in her throat, and then in the next moment she was gone, vanished back to the Shadow realm. Lucas reached down, wincing at the pain in his side and picked up the quiver of arrows that lay discarded at the edge of the roof, slinging it over his shoulder.

  That’s when he felt Evie. His head flew up instantly, his stomach tightening as the murmur in his chest became louder. He sprinted to the far edge of the roof, forgetting the pain in his side, and dropped to a crouching position behind the parapet.

  The BMW was pulling into the lot beneath him, opposite a fried-chicken joint. He watched, holding his breath, as the back door flew open even before the car had stopped and something silver spun out across the lot. He followed its trajectory. Two Scorpio, wearing red uniforms, were running at full tilt towards the car, their tails arching above their heads.

  Lucas’s feet found the ledge just as the first Scorpio tumbled in a somersault to the ground, vanishing on impact. The second Scorpio faltered and this time Lucas saw the silver disk embed in his chest. Then he vanished too. The crimson-spattered disc clattered to the tarmac. Lucas trained his eyes on the car where Ash now stood beside the out-flung door admiring his handiwork.

  Evie climbed out of the car beside Ash, one hand resting on the top of the door while her eyes scanned the building. Her gaze flew straight to the roof. She was staring right at him. Could she see him? He stepped back into daylight and waved, trying to draw her attention. If she saw him there, would she change her mind? But someone had appeared in front of her and was blocking her view. Lucas flexed his fists at the sight of Cyrus, and then ground his teeth when Margaret and Vero appeared as well. Lucas inched along the wall trying to get a better visual on Evie but Cyrus had his arm around her shoulder now and was already marching her across the parking lot towards the rear entrance of the building, the others flanking them.

  Lucas rocked back onto his heels. Goddamn it. It was time for that serious disagreement he’d been meaning to have with Cyrus. He gripped the ledge and ran his eyes along the side of the building looking for a way down. He had to stop them, stop Evie. He couldn’t let her go inside.

  He swung his leg over the side of the ledge and gripped hold of a plastic drainpipe, which groaned as he shifted all his weight onto it. He looked downwards just at the same second that Evie glanced back up. Their eyes met and caught, a look of total horror and pain and darkness passing over Evie’s face before she looked away and kept walking. Lucas lost his grip. He grabbed for a window ledge, clawing desperately for balance. By the time he managed to find his footing again and glance down, she was gone.

  Chapter 43

  Cyrus was holding her close, crushing her, or maybe it wasn’t him crushing her, maybe it was fear squeezing the breath out of her body. She shouldn’t have looked back. Hadn’t Issa warned her not to? Because now all she could see in her mind’s eye was the expression on Lucas’s face – the despair, the anguish, the hurt at her betrayal. Damn it. Why had he followed her? Why couldn’t he see this was the only way?

  The door was just ahead of them, gaping like a toothless mouth. Evie could see the dimmed and hushed interior inside. And in the shadows just beyond the door she could sense something lingering. Cyrus too could feel it – he slowed his pace fractionally, sliding a short, flat sword out of its scabbard as he walked.

  ‘Stay close,’ he said to her, not taking his eyes off the door. She nodded as she felt his hand fall away. But there came a pull, as if her body was attached by invisible cords to something – no, not to something, to someone – and it was yanking her powerfully in the opposite direction. She faltered even as she tried to keep moving forwards and Cyrus’s hand closed around her wrist. He pulled her close against his side, his fingers biting into her wrist, and shot her a warning look. Behind her Vero nudged her with what felt like the point of an arrow.

  She threw off Cyrus’s hand, rolled back her shoulders and marched forwards, crossing the darkened threshold into the Bradbury building. It was as if they were tourists come to ogle at the skylights and the historic interiors. As if they weren’t fully armed and about to do battle with monsters and demons.

  As soon as they were through the door, Cyrus swung fast to his right, pushing Evie with the full weight of his body behind him. He brought his right arm up at the same time in a wide arc. The Scorpio who’d sprung at them fell forwards, toppling towards them with a startled expression on his face, his sunglasses flying off his face. His red eyes blinked once in shock as Cyrus twisted the blade and, with a grunt, threw the Scorpio backwards. He slammed into the wall with a crunch and then vanished, leaving only a smear of blood where his head had smashed into the brick.

  Without breaking stride, Cyrus sheathed the sword and pulled Evie towards the atrium. The others closed ranks around her, Vero and Ash walking backwards, their heels scuffing against Evie’s.

  A shout from Ash made Evie spin around just in time to see Vero drop to one knee and slash two swords in front of her chest in a wide, sweeping motion. Evie blinked. Through her lashes, caught in a strand of sunlight, she saw the faintest outline of a Shadow Warrior leap into focus. And just as quickly it vanished and something clattered to the ground, sending up a hail of blue sparks.

  Vero sheathed both her swords across her back and reached forward to pick up the shadow blade that h
ad fallen by her feet. She hefted it into her right hand, feeling its lightness, then grinned up at Ash. He grinned back at her as she stood and sheathed the weapon through the belt of her dress.

  ‘Let’s go,’ Cyrus said, checking over his shoulder.

  They swung into a well of light and Evie looked up, startled. They were standing beneath a central glass atrium. Sunlight was fracturing through it, refracting off the red brickwork around them and making it seem as if it was inlaid with quartz crystal. Slats of light were painting the floor and poking their rays through the twisted wrought-iron balustrades. A marble staircase swept up to the first floor and beyond. It was majestic and echoing and beautiful. And completely empty. Hadn’t Issa said there would be Thirsters waiting?

  ‘I thought this place was open to the public?’ Margaret asked in a whisper.

  ‘It is,’ Cyrus answered, heading towards two elevators encased in iron cages. He pressed the call button.

  ‘Well, where is everyone then?’

  Evie glanced around. It was true. The place was emptier than a Thirster’s grave.

  ‘I think maybe they got eaten,’ Ash said quietly.

  Evie turned her head slowly, her senses overwhelmed by the stench that had just hit her. The elevator doors stood wide open, and for a moment Evie could only stare, unseeing, trying to piece together the image in front of her. It looked as if someone had dumped a heap of dirty clothing into the elevator, but then limbs began to materialise. Just by the door lay a hand – just a hand. No arm was attached. On one finger was a wedding band and Evie stared at it in shock.

  She realised too, with ghost-like detachment, that the floor wasn’t in fact painted gloss red either. It was a small lake of blood that was pooling at her feet. Evie kept staring at the two – or was it three? – bodies, all in police uniform, lying torn and dismembered inside the elevator. She wasn’t really seeing them. She was seeing Risper. And Neena.

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