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       Fated, p.25

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  He glanced sideways at Risper who had eased forward and planted herself side by side with him. Whatever her motivation, they both had a common interest now.

  Risper's dark eyes found his and in that single second he knew she had understood what he intended to do. He faded into the shadows like a sigh, drawing his blade as he did.

  Shula's face contorted into panic and fear. 'I sense you, Lucas,' she yelled into the space between them.

  Evie's yell brought him back. He materialised as he spun around, his arm flying out instantly, drawing her against him, his eyes darting down the alley in the direction Evie was pointing.

  Joshua was advancing silently behind them. As they stepped into the square of light, Evie cried out.

  For a second he didn't understand but then he took in the blood dripping from Joshua's chin, the red streaks splashed across his T-shirt. Joshua's face was illuminated, his smile so wide Lucas could make out the drops of blood hanging on the end of his fangs.

  'Your Hunter friend was tay-ay-sty,' Joshua said, smacking his lips together. 'Mmmmmmmmm.' He licked his palm, smiling, his eyes fixed on Evie.

  Lucas heard Risper swear, sensed Evie's heart rate pounding like a starter pistol.

  'Oh, why the brooding, scowly face, Lucas?' Shula pouted. She turned to Evie. 'You fell for this? Seriously?'

  'You're not jealous, are you?' Evie snapped back.

  Shula looked like she'd been slapped, but then, plastering on a smile, she turned to Lucas. 'So, yawn yawn, blah blah, hand her over, Half-and-half.'

  'Don't think so, Shula,' he said, his voice carrying more than a warning in it. 'And if you want her you'll have to go through me to get to her.' He raised an eyebrow as he tipped his blade to catch the light.

  'Oh, he's willing to die for you!' Shula clapped her hands together, looking at Evie. 'Isn't that sweet? So romantic. I best make sure he gets to fulfill that. Otherwise it's just oh so many empty words and you'll forever be wondering if he actually meant them.'

  'There are three of us. And only two of you,' Lucas growled.

  Shula sighed. 'Actually there are three of us,' she said, pointing up to the emergency exit sign. Lucas looked up and spotted the tiny brown sparrow sitting there.

  'Neena, get down here,' Shula hissed.

  The bird fluttered its wings and flew down, flapping left and right as if not sure where to land. Eventually she landed in a shimmer to Shula's left, materialising straight away into Neena's normal form. She stood there, staring at the ground, her narrow shoulders tensed.

  'So that makes three against two because your girlfriend doesn't count,' Shula smirked, looking at Evie. 'I hear tell she can't fight very well. And Grace tells us she didn't kill Caleb after all, so I know she doesn't have her full power.'

  He heard the crunch of gravel as Evie stepped forward, and his hand tightened on her wrist, holding her back.

  'Power or no power, I seem to remember I smacked you up pretty good last time,' Evie said.

  Shula's mouth pursed. 'I was wearing heels,' she said. 'I was at a distinct disadvantage.' She paused. 'You know, I still have coffee stains on that dress. I think you owe me. Maybe after I rip out your guts and decorate your boyfriend with them I'll go shopping in your little store, help myself to something new.'

  'I don't think we have anything in your size,' Evie answered back, 'or anything that goes with green, for that matter.'

  Lucas sensed movement to his right and whipped around. Joshua had sauntered forward, a fingernail prising something gristly from between his teeth. Risper placed herself in front of him, a saw blade in each hand, looking like she was judging where to plant the first one.

  Joshua paused mid-step and smiled disdainfully at her. A blade like that would barely scratch his skin.

  'It's got Mixen acid on it,' Risper said, seeing Joshua eyeing her weapon. 'Might not kill you, sure is gonna hurt.'

  Joshua frowned at her moodily, then looked at Lucas. 'What y'all doing fighting with Hunters? You're on the wrong side.'

  'Am I?' Lucas replied. He weighed his own blade. It was Shadow steel, strong enough to break through Thirster skin, but if he was fighting Joshua that would leave Shula free to make a move. And then Neena? Would she actually fight? He didn't know but he wasn't sure he could hurt her.

  Joshua tugged the gristle free and threw it to the floor. 'I always wanted to taste Shadow Warrior.'

  'Come over here and taste it, then,' he said.

  The light blinded them all.

  'Back the hell off,' Evie yelled, stepping forward into the space that had opened up in front of them.

  She was waving the torch in her hand. Joshua fell back, his arms flying up to cover his face, his skin starting to sizzle like bacon fat.

  Ignoring his screeching cries and Shula's swearing, Evie took Lucas's hand. 'Come on,' she said, 'let's go.'

  37

  They backed away, their eyes on Shula, steadily, furiously advancing on them. She had paused only to unsheathe the metre long sword slung between her shoulder blades. It looked like something that had last seen battle during the Crusades.

  Risper hurled a blade. It cut through the air. Shula dodged it. The second one, following hard on the shadow of the first, took her by surprise and sliced into the flesh of her shoulder.

  Shula screamed in outrage, her hand flying to the wound, which started pouring a steady stream of greenish-black ooze. She hefted the sword into her left hand.

  'Good job I'm left-handed,' she spat through gritted teeth.

  'I've only got one blade left,' Risper said under her breath.

  Lucas swore, his hand tightening around Evie's wrist.

  'Do something, Neena! The light!' Shula yelled.

  Evie took another few steps backwards, tugging Lucas with her, holding the torch high, trying to direct its beam straight onto the Thirster lying on the ground.

  She took another step. Something blurred at the edge of her vision, leaping towards her, and she yelped as the torch flew out of her hands, smashing to the ground by her feet. The alley plunged into darkness. The spitting fat noise stopped - became a hiss.

  Evie stared at the cat, as narrow and black as the alley, that was standing over the torch hissing at her. Then it shimmered and a girl took its place - the girl with the brown hair and the narrow chin. She was looking at Lucas, her bottom lip quivering. Before Evie could even process what had just happened - a cat becoming a girl - the girl had run over to the smoking Thirster and was helping him up.

  Half of his face had melted away, patches of skin hanging down over his jaw like tattered drapes.

  Evie felt her stomach contract. His lip curled upwards and she saw a fang appear, razor-sharp, shining white against the black crust of his burnt lip. He took a wonky step forwards, his shoulders rounding, his head tilting in her direction. Through the gap in his cheek she could see the rest of his teeth grinding.

  Lucas thrust her backwards. 'Run!' he said.

  She staggered a few steps. 'No,' she answered, stepping close and brushing his arm. 'I'm not leaving you,' she said.

  'We'll hold them off, just go,' Risper hissed at her.

  Before she could answer her, Risper had dived underneath Shula's outstretched arms and hurled her last blade straight at Joshua. It struck him dead centre in the chest. He let out a roar, his head flying back.

  Shula turned on Lucas, who stood blocking her view of Evie.

  Evie looked at her knife. 'Risper!' she yelled.

  Risper turned just as Evie spun the knife, hilt first, straight at her. Risper caught it in her right hand, a smile flashing onto her face. It wouldn't do - it wasn't enough. It was a stupid knife - she needed a crossbow or a flame-thrower. But Risper turned back to the Thirster and stepped towards him and Neena.

  'Go!' Lucas roared.

  Evie took one last glance at him and then she turned and she ran, her feet skimming the ground. She could see the door to the store still standing open sixty, now fifty metres ahead of her. And inside t
here was the crossbow and more weapons.

  She had to get back there.

  From behind her she heard the clash of metal on metal, the shrieking tear as one blade scraped another. And then a scream - a human sound - that shattered the night air. Cut off so suddenly that Evie came to a thundering halt, her heart leaping into her mouth.

  Risper.

  She looked over her shoulder. And out of the darkness came a shape, bearing down on her fast, the sound of pounding, loping paws overtaking the pounding of her own heartbeat.

  She threw herself forwards towards the door. There was a swish, a rush of wind at her side, and in front of her Neena appeared - her face pale, her eyes fierce. Her chin quivered.

  Evie felt the adrenaline flood into her body, her hand coil into a fist.

  Then the girl opened her mouth, her eyes darting over Evie's shoulder and then back to her face. 'Tell Lucas I did this', she said in a rush. 'Tell him I'm sorry. I hope he's right about you.'

  Evie pulled back startled. 'What?'

  The girl didn't answer. She just became a blur. A dizzying heat mirage right in front of her. And then his face appeared.

  'Lucas,' Evie whispered.

  She knew it wasn't him - but it was him. It was exactly him. His grey eyes were staring into her own, and there were the tiny flecks of black around the iris, but the expression in them wasn't his. It was neither fierce nor haunted nor fathomless. It was afraid. And she had never seen Lucas look afraid.

  He stepped past her.

  She turned open-mouthed, wondering what the girl was doing, and saw the Thirster standing there. Before her eyes his skin was healing, the oozing gaps where the flesh had been seared were knitting up. He raised a hand and wiped the blood from his chin.

  She felt her heart ramp up a gear, the sickly spin of panic mixing with adrenaline, making her body start to shake.

  'You want the girl you'll have to come through me to get her,' she heard the girl who looked like Lucas say in Lucas's voice - low and threatening.

  'OK.' The Thirster shrugged. And he lunged.

  His teeth ripped through Lucas's neck as though it was a wishbone. Evie let out a scream. She felt blood splatter warm against her cheek and she screamed even louder. She couldn't stop. And the blood was everywhere, lakes of it pooling around her feet, which she only now realised were still bare.

  The Thirster had fallen to his knees and the sound of sucking and of flesh ripping was filling her ears and she was choking and crying even as her instinct was telling her to turn and run. Lucas's voice in her head, screaming even louder than she was, to turn and run.

  She turned, her fingers finding the door, and she ran. Inside - she spun around, panicked and wild.

  Her head flew back and forth trying to focus. Her hands were shaking as she ran over and picked up the other torch. She hefted it into her left hand and then unhooked the crossbow from the wall. Risper's crossbow. She pulled four arrows from the sheath and then ran back to the door.

  In the alley lay a body. Only it wasn't Lucas any more. It was the girl - lying doll-like, limbs splayed, face slick with blood.

  The Thirster was gone. Evie glanced up the alley. Where was he? She dropped to her knees, frantically searching for a pulse on the girl's neck. Her fingers slipped. Blood gushed warm over her hand. There was a faint trace, a murmur and then it was gone. The girl's eyes were open, glassy, staring accusingly up at her. And then she disappeared, just some scraps of blood-soaked material left lying on the ground. Evie fell back onto her haunches, her hand dropping away and splashing into the pool of blood she was crouched in. She tried to push the sob back down her throat but it lodged there splinter-like, choking her. Why had the girl done that for her? Or for Lucas?

  She couldn't stop to think about it. She was up, running again, her hands bringing the bow up, setting an arrow into place even as she ran. Up ahead she could see the girl, Shula, waving the sword, swirling it around, dancing with it. Next to her, prancing in rabid circles, was the Thirster, fangs bared, arms spread wide. He'd gone back to help Shula fight Lucas, probably thinking she would be easy prey after he was dead.

  Between them, discarded next to a pile of clothing, lay Risper's boot. Evie couldn't piece anything about the scene in front of her together. Where was Lucas?

  Then the pile of clothing took shape. The limbs were bent so awkwardly she hadn't at first seen it was a body.

  That it was Risper.

  Her vision blurred and she grasped at the crossbow to stop it falling off her shoulder. It wasn't possible. They were dancing over Risper's body, on top of her, as if she was nothing more than a bag of trash. Evie swung the crossbow back up, blinking away the tears.

  She let it drop.

  Where was Lucas? She couldn't see him.

  The world tipped violently before righting itself. She stood on unsteady legs, her whole body shaking, as the scene in front of her became clear.

  She couldn't see him. She could feel him - like an extra heart beating in her chest - but she couldn't see him.

  The two Unhumans weren't dancing. They were fighting. They were fighting Lucas. She couldn't see him but they obviously could - or they could sense him.

  Shula was spinning like a dervish, wielding the sword in both hands, bringing it down in swinging arcs, her face contorted in rage, but now Evie looked closer she could see sparks flying off the sword.

  The crossbow was rammed against her shoulder; she was looking down the sight. She pointed it at Shula.

  She couldn't fire.

  She couldn't see if Lucas was in the way.

  She closed her eyes. What was she supposed to do?

  Sense him.

  Her eyes flew open. She breathed in, breathed out. Felt a sudden pull as the sounds and smells in the alley dropped away and a calmness - a stillness - flowed through her.

  A shadow danced across the alley, a blur before her eyes. The trace of a blade smashing against Shula's sword, sparks raining down.

  He took form slowly before her, a dark insubstantial shape made of shadows and flitting so fast she couldn't make the shape whole, could only make out the blade as the light glinted off it as it twisted and fell smashing again and again against Shula's sword even as he had to bend and somersault and dodge the Thirster coming at him from behind.

  Evie took aim, waited for the shadow to spring, and then she let an arrow fly.

  It thumped with a sickening crack into the Thirster's chest and she watched him fly backwards, his feet scuffing the ground, his hands wrapping around the six inches of arrow shaft sticking out the centre of his chest. Then he looked up and saw Evie standing there and let out an ear-splitting roar.

  She let the second arrow fly and it thudded into his stomach. Another scream tore from his stretched mouth.

  Evie rammed the third arrow home and raised the crossbow once more, sighting it on Shula who was standing, sword clutched before her, sweat pouring down her neck, panting madly.

  'Drop the sword,' Evie shouted.

  Shula eyed her, eyed the crossbow.

  'Lucas, it would help if I could see you,' Evie called.

  He appeared, silent as a ghost materialising before her. She smiled faintly. His shirt was stuck to him in places, sweat plastering his hair back, his whole body tensed and his breath coming fast. His father's blade was shining in his hand.

  He gave her a look that almost made her drop the crossbow. She felt like she was dissolving - that she needed to run to him, feel his arms around her before she disappeared - before he disappeared again. But before she could take a step or utter another word he had turned to Shula.

  He took a step, raising his blade, pointing it straight at her neck. Shula flinched backwards, her sword dropping to her side, grating the ground.

  'Lucas,' she pleaded as he backed her against the wall.

  Evie clutched the crossbow tighter, aiming it straight between Shula's eyes.

  She didn't see the Thirster coming. She was concentrating so hard on Shula
and where to place her last arrow.

  But there he was, suddenly a solid shape behind Lucas, his hands locking around his neck, dragging him backwards, and Lucas was falling, and the Thirster sank his fangs in with a sickening yell and blood was spurting like a fountain, spraying the ground and covering the Thirster's face in a veil of red.

  Evie screamed as she let the fourth arrow fly. And she screamed as it pierced the Thirster just above the eyeball, throwing him backwards off Lucas and skewering him to the far wall of the alley. She ran, tossing the crossbow to the ground, stumbling towards Lucas, who was fading, becoming indistinct, even as she flung herself towards him. Her hands were reaching for him - needing to reach him - even as Shula raised the sword like an axe above her head.

  And she saw the shadow of the blade fall, felt the gust of wind as it cleaved the air above her. And she scrunched her eyes closed and threw herself forward over Lucas's body.

  She waited for the blow to land, her lips tasting blood and sweat and darkness.

  Nothing happened.

  She opened one eye. Her face was buried in Lucas's neck, her hair covering his face like a sheet. She raised herself on her elbows, her fingers finding his lips, his nose and his cheekbones. He was still here. Still solid. Still real. She felt his breath warm against her hand, then his eyes flashed open and she felt his arm come around her waist. Before she could say anything, he had rolled, and she was underneath him, his weight on top of her pressing her down, and her hands were around his neck wanting to keep him there. But he was up in the next beat, crouching low with his back to her, blade in hand, blood trickling down his neck from the two puncture wounds.

  She scrambled up, gripping his shoulder for support. Her mouth fell open.

  Shula was spreadeagled on the ground, her head resting on Risper's boot.

  Her eyes were splayed wide in surprise and it looked as if someone had taken a marker pen and drawn a fat black circle on her forehead. A thin trail of greenish blood was seeping out of it.

 
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