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Fated 02 severed, p.24
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       Fated 02: Severed, p.24

           Sarah Alderson
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  So many people dead. So many more who would die.

  The others were equally horror struck. Vero was pressing her head into Ash’s shoulder, Cyrus was staring dumbly, Margaret was clutching his arm to steady herself. Evie stepped quickly past them all and strode to the other elevator. Cyrus called after her, running to catch her up.

  ‘Stay by my side,’ he said through gritted teeth, seizing her by the hand.

  She snatched her arm from his grip and reached to press the call button on the second elevator. The others joined them, watchful and on edge, their weapons at the ready, as the doors cranked open. This one was thankfully empty. Margaret was first in, a UV lamp clutched in each hand.

  ‘Wait up,’ Ash called, as Cyrus pulled Evie into the elevator behind him.

  They hesitated, stepping gingerly back into the lobby. Ash was pointing across the atrium to where three Thirsters now stood toeing the line where shadow met bright sunlit floor. They were spitting like a pit of angry snakes, their fangs bared, eyes bursting with blooms of red. A hiss of steam erupted as one of them thrust his chest forwards into the light. He screamed and fell back.

  ‘They’re newly made,’ Cyrus said. ‘Check the fang marks in their necks. And they’re blood-high.’

  Blood-high? She’d never heard the expression but Evie could guess what it meant.

  ‘They’re trapped,’ Ash murmured, glancing up at the blue sky and ribbons of sunlight cascading through the roof. ‘We’re lucky it’s not cloudy today.’

  ‘We’re lucky they’re not Originals,’ Cyrus muttered, striding across the lobby towards them.

  ‘That the best you can do?’ he roared at them. ‘What’s the matter? Can’t cross the line?’ He stopped a tantalisingly few centimetres in front of them. One of the Thirsters thrust his hand forward, grabbing for him, pulling it back with a high-pitched scream as it brushed the rays of sunlight. ‘Oooh, did that hurt?’ Cyrus taunted. ‘You big baby, don’t you want to get your fangs into this?’ He bent his head to the side, exposing his neck and a slickly pulsing artery. The middle Thirster threw back his head and howled. The others started snapping wildly at the scent.

  ‘Cyrus!’ Margaret yelled.

  Ash brushed quickly past Evie, hefting a flamethrower up to his shoulder as he went.

  ‘You can’t use a flamethrower – this is a historic building, Ash,’ Cyrus said, glancing at him.

  ‘Well, what do you suggest?’ Ash shot back.

  The words were barely out of his mouth when one after the other the Thirsters went flying backwards, each letting out a scream as they thudded into the brickwork behind them.

  ‘That. That works,’ Cyrus said, turning to Vero who was throwing her crossbow to the ground.

  She snatched the flamethrower out of Ash’s limp grasp. ‘Give me that,’ she said.

  Cyrus winced but closed his mouth and backed away as Vero sprayed the three bodies with a burst of flame. He jogged over to Evie, leading her to the elevator as slaughterhouse squeals erupted behind them. They stood watching in silence as Vero doused the bodies with flames, making figures of eight, until Ash started tugging at her elbow and eventually pulled her away.

  Cyrus pushed the button and Evie tipped her head back, feeling the last rays of light slide across her face and the cries from the Thirsters slowly dying, as they descended into darkness.

  Chapter 44

  Cyrus dropped to one knee inside the elevator, and slid a second blade from his boot. ‘Ash, you ready?’ he asked, darting a quick glance at Ash who was standing, shoulders squared, head lowered, in the centre of the elevator. Ash nodded.

  The elevator door cranked open and Ash was gone. In a blur Evie saw him move. The long sword he’d been wearing in a sheath over his back was somehow already in one hand and flashing wildly, clanging against invisible shadow blades, raining down purple and blue sparks.

  Vero and Margaret were next out. The lamps in Margaret’s hand alight, illuminating the large room they’d stepped into. Evie shrank back against the elevator wall as a barrage of screams and hissing deafened her, but Cyrus had her by the arm and was dragging her out and into the midst of it. Six or seven Thirsters were lying on the floor screaming as their bodies steamed and crackled. The stench of burning flesh filled her nostrils. A whoosh of flames roared past her ear and Evie pressed herself against Cyrus’s back as Vero threw a wall of fire over their shoulders, scouring the ground with it. The screams crescendoed and a bank of black smoke filled the room.

  Through the haze Evie could see shapes moving. Ash darted fast as an arrow, this way and that, sweat pouring from his body. Vero dropped the flamethrower in the next moment and was in the fight with him, her lithe body moving with the grace of a dancer, her shadow blade leaving neon traces in the smoke-filled air.

  Cyrus was edging her through the billowing folds of smoke, through the fight that was raging around them, towards a far door. The smoke cleared for a moment and Evie let out a scream as she caught sight of a dark shadow lashing towards them. Cyrus flung his arm upwards to ward it off, his sword taking the blow. Through the smoke a Scorpio had come charging towards them. His tail was now hanging limply, scraping along the ground behind him where it had been sliced almost in two by Cyrus’s blade.

  Cyrus abruptly let her go, bellowing in pain as his sword clattered to the floor. From out of nowhere a Mixen had appeared and had wrapped his hands around Cyrus’s arm. Evie didn’t pause to think. She pulled the knife out of the battered leather sheath on Cyrus’s waist and, as the Mixen brought his other hand up to Cyrus’s neck, Evie twisted, spinning beneath Cyrus’s arm, dropping to her knees and ramming the knife upwards with all her strength until she felt it slide slippery and quick between two ribs. A spatter of acid blood sprayed her hands and arms but she didn’t feel it. She had rolled forwards, instinctively, out of the way of the Scorpio who was now coming at her. As she rolled, her hand closed around the hilt of Cyrus’s sword lying discarded on the floor, and she brought it upwards as she jumped to her feet, spinning in a whirl. She felt the resistance of flesh soft as butter and then the freedom of the blade as it met air.

  Both the Mixen and the Scorpio had vanished by the time she turned back to face Cyrus. His eyes were burning with pain and stretched wide with shock. Issa hadn’t predicted that one. The smoke around them was clearing. Evie became aware of an alarm going off. It started off muted but got louder until it was slamming her eardrums, disorientating her, making her want to slide against the wall to get her balance.

  She turned unsteadily in a circle, trying to make out the others. She saw Ash wiping sweat from his face, one arm slung over Vero’s shoulder as she supported him. He had a long bloody streak across his chest and seemed to be limping, but they were both alive she thought, her heart pounding with relief. And there was Margaret too, resting the lamps on the ground, pointing them at the door ahead of them.

  ‘You were supposed to stay behind me,’ Cyrus said to her through gritted teeth.

  She turned back around to face him. ‘You’re welcome,’ she answered.

  ‘I didn’t know you could fight like that,’ he said, frowning at her. ‘Where’d you learn those moves?’

  ‘Cheerleading,’ she answered, handing him back his sword and brushing herself down.

  She looked around the room. It was a hallway of sorts rather than a room. There were several wooden doors coming off it – what looked like storerooms. And, ahead of them, a thick metal door. Above it a sign read: Other Realm Costume Hire.

  So this was the way through to the way through, Evie thought, taking it in.

  ‘How do we get through that door?’ Ash asked, hobbling to Cyrus’s side.

  ‘No idea,’ Cyrus answered, holding his arm against his chest.

  ‘Wait,’ Evie suddenly hissed, cocking her head to the side. ‘There are more.’

  A rush of nausea hit her. Before any of them could ready themselves one of the doors to the side had flown wide open.

  ‘Behind me,’ C
yrus yelled.

  Evie rolled her eyes but obeyed, falling in behind him as Cyrus charged at the two Mixen who were stampeding towards them. They were in swinging distance of his sword when they both faltered and fell. Evie caught sight of the cent-sized hole, like a bindi between the closest one’s eyes, before he vanished. The other one was blown sideways by the force of the shot.

  Evie turned. Margaret was holding a smoking gun in both hands. She walked steadily towards the one on the ground, who lay there gasping. The bullet hole was in her side. Her green skin was turning pale, slicked with sweat, her eyes darting wildly between them all.

  Margaret stood over her with the gun poised.

  ‘No!’ Cyrus shouted, putting his hand on his mother’s arm to stop her firing.

  ‘Wait, I’ve a better idea. Help me move her,’ he said.

  He tore his shirt off and started ripping it to shreds, wrapping the strips around his hands. He handed the rest of his shirt to Margaret. She looked at it, confused, before she began following his lead. When they were done they bent and hauled the Mixen’s body towards the metal door. She let out a low moan as they moved her, dark, foul-smelling liquid bubbling at her lips.

  ‘What are you doing?’ Ash asked, as they propped her against the metal door.

  ‘He’s getting us through the door,’ Vero answered with a smile.

  ‘Stand back,’ Cyrus shouted, jogging back towards Evie. He pulled Evie under his arm, sheltering her against his side. ‘And get ready.’ He threw his arm back as if he was pitching a baseball and then let something fly.

  The world exploded into a ball of furious light and scalding flame. The alarm became a faint trilling noise underneath the patter of concrete that began raining down on them. A hot splatter of something landed on Evie’s forearm and she gritted her teeth to stop herself from yelling and covered her head with her arms as Cyrus curled his body around her, taking the brunt.

  When he loosened his grip and she dared to look around, the Mixen was entirely gone. Where she’d been sitting propped up against the door there was now an enormous smoking hole. The door itself was a mangled piece of metal, jagged-edged and dripping molten metal to the ground. Evie looked down at her arm and saw the red marks on her skin, and then at Cyrus whose bare shoulders had taken the worst of the hit and were now scored with blistering red burns.

  Cyrus had created an acid bomb out of a Mixen.

  ‘Nice thinking,’ Ash murmured, stepping forwards to examine the damage.

  Light was streaming through as if the room was beneath the atrium upstairs, but it wasn’t. She knew it wasn’t. The roof was concrete. The light was coming not from the ceiling but from the Gateway itself. It was blinding, so dazzling that even the arm Evie threw up to shield her eyes couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down her cheeks.

  Cyrus edged slowly forwards, weighing the sword in his hand, towards the gap. A shadow fell then across the light, subduing it, and Evie dropped her arm as a shudder travelled up her spine.

  ‘Holy shit,’ Cyrus mumbled, stumbling backwards.

  Evie’s heart pounded in her chest as she took in the size of the person silhouetted against the light. Her head felt as though it was about to float clean off her shoulders and the adrenaline running wild through her body was setting her damaged nerves alight. She knew instantly that whatever it was that had appeared in the doorway was nothing she had encountered before. This was something entirely new – a new breed of unhuman altogether.

  He was well over six and a half feet tall, with white-blonde hair that caught the light, and piercing blue eyes that roved the room before flicking over each of them in turn, until they finally came to rest on Evie. He cocked his head at her, as though she was a present – her clothes the bow, her body the box – and he was puzzling out how exactly he was going to unwrap her. Then he smiled and Evie caught sight of the razor-sharp, pointed incisors and finally understood what he was. He was one of the Originals – the unhumans that had, according to everyone, been wiped out a thousand years ago. Not so much with the wipe out, Evie thought as her eyes travelled the length of his body. This one looked pretty damn animated.

  ‘The lamp,’ Evie hissed sideways at Cyrus.

  ‘I’m using the lamp,’ Cyrus replied between gritted teeth.

  Evie glanced down and saw that he was telling the truth. He was holding the lamp and aiming it at the Original but the usual flop to the ground and start-hissing thing wasn’t happening. Nothing was happening. The man didn’t even seem to have noticed the UV rays bouncing off his skin. All his attention remained fixed on Evie.

  ‘What do we do?’ Evie asked, her voice trembling. Why hadn’t Issa warned them of this?

  ‘We kill it,’ Cyrus whispered back, but she detected the waver in his voice as he said it.

  Evie’s gaze darted to the floor for a weapon, something more substantial than a saw blade. The flamethrower lay on the ground just by the Original’s foot. She glanced back up at him, weighing her options. If only she could distract him and make a dive for it she might be able to bring it up and blast him with flame. But would he even feel it? Would the flames just bounce off him, like the UV light was doing? Before she could figure out whether to take the risk or not, the Original took a quick stride forward. The flamethrower crunched like a sheet of aluminium foil beneath his foot. Evie stared in flaring panic at the flattened buckled metal and then lifted her eyes to the Original’s face. He was still smiling at her. She took a faltering step backwards, her knees shaking.

  ‘Vero,’ Cyrus called out urgently under his breath.

  An arrow went flying past Evie’s ear and bounced off the Original’s chest as if the shaft and the tip were made of rubber. The man caught the second arrow in his hand and tossed it to the side with a bored expression. But then his lips stretched back over his teeth, the dark rings of his irises flooded with blood, and he let out a roar which shook another layer of debris from the ceiling.

  Evie’s hand closed around the circular-saw blade she’d stuffed into her pocket. She pulled it free and clutched it to her chest. Chucking it would be like throwing confetti at him. She brought her elbow back anyway and took aim. But just as she was about to let it fly, the Original vanished into thin air, reappearing a split second later in front of Vero, his speed so unexpected that all of them stood blinking, including Vero, who didn’t even have time to move a muscle. The Original’s hand closed vice-like around her neck as he lifted her clean off the ground. A gargled croak burst from Vero’s throat and her eyes bulged out of their sockets. Her toes scuffed the ground as the man dangled her in front of his face and snarled. Ash yelled, throwing himself at the Original, levelling a stream of roundhouse kicks to the chest and arms.

  The Original flicked Ash away with his free hand as if he was deadheading a plant.

  Evie threw the saw blade, watching as it struck the Original on the side of the head and bounced straight off. The Original turned to Evie and narrowed his eyes. She felt Cyrus back into her, trying to shield her. The Original tossed Vero to one side. She smashed into the wall with a thud and lay there unmoving. Out of the corner of her eye Evie saw Ash limp towards Vero’s body, but then all her attention was drawn back to the Original. He was ambling towards her, studying her curiously. She stepped backwards, her foot crunching on the flattened flamethrower. What now?

  Evie cast around once more for something – anything – she could use to distract him, just long enough for her to make it through the Gateway. And at just that moment she saw it – the hilt of it, poking out from beneath Vero’s leg – the shadow blade she had picked up earlier. With a hurried glance at Cyrus who was now circling the Original, distracting him, Evie threw herself sideways, falling half on top of Vero, her hand closing around the hilt of the blade and dragging it free in the same instant.

  ‘Hey!’ she yelled from her position, crouched by Vero’s side, ‘it’s me you’re after! It’s me you want!’

  The Original stopped stalking Cyrus and turned
his head towards her.

  ‘Evie!’ Cyrus yelled out in anger.

  She ignored him. ‘Come and get me you piece of …’

  The Original was in front of her before she could finish her sentence, his knees level with her head. She glanced up at him and then with a scream leapt to her feet, bringing the blade up and driving it straight through his throat. It slid through his flesh as easily as a butter knife through frosting. There was an ear-splitting roar which cut off almost instantly and then a crash which shook the ground as his head hit the floor and rolled like a bowling ball across it, coming to a stop right by Ash’s foot.

  For a moment everyone stood in stunned silence, gaping at the head. Then Evie looked around. Ash had pulled Vero onto his lap and was trying to shake her awake, calling her name over and over. Eventually Vero stirred and groaned, opening her eyes and screaming loud as she saw the Original’s wide, gaping mouth staring up at her. Margaret was standing in the corner, breathing heavily, tears rolling down her cheeks.

  And Cyrus was in front of her. Gently, he took hold of her arm, which she realised only now was still raised, and lowered it to her side, then he eased the blade free from her rigid fingers. After staring at her for a few seconds until he was sure that she was OK, Cyrus walked over to the Original’s head and dropped a lit match into its open mouth.

  Chapter 45

  Evie was first through the gap in the wall. She stood there paralysed, staring at the blinding white light opposite. So this was the way through. It looked like a mirror reflecting the sun. The light was so fierce and white hot she couldn’t look at it straight on, couldn’t even make out the edges of it when she squinted. There was no way of telling what lay on the other side. Other than oblivion, that was. Which was probably a good thing all in all. If it had just been a doorway with five thousand blood-high unhumans visible on the other side she doubted she’d have been able to walk through it.

  Her heart was suddenly beating a thousand times a minute, her breath short. Wasted. She shouldn’t have to struggle for breath – not now, when every single gulp of air was a luxury, something she wanted to savour and suck deep. Her legs were shaking and she felt angry at their betrayal. She hadn’t come this far to not be able to finish what she’d started.

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