Catwoman soulstealer, p.21
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       Catwoman: Soulstealer, p.21
 

           Sarah J. Maas
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  She knew how Nyssa and Talia hunted their own. She’d helped them do it in the past.

  First the vanguard: Shrike.

  Then the test of abilities: Tigris.

  And the next step…

  There was not much time left before the next step.

  And she would need an army to face it.

  Selina looked up at the stars barely visible with the glow from the distant city lights.

  Armies required money. And a healthy dose of fear.

  * * *

  —

  “Remind me why we’re sitting up on this rooftop in the cold?” Ivy’s breath curled from her mouth as she sat beside Selina and studied the alley below. Summer was finally yielding to autumn’s chill. A small mercy, to at last say farewell to the heavy heat.

  “Because I need you to cover me while I have a little chat with some lowlifes in a few minutes.”

  Ivy only yawned, rearranging her colorful assortment of shimmering flowers on the roof tiles before them. Her little vine friend was tucked into the warmth of her pocket. “Plants don’t like cold.”

  “Well, you’re still technically a human, so it doesn’t apply.”

  “Some days,” Ivy admitted, “I don’t feel like it.”

  Ivy had no idea how much Selina agreed with that sentiment. But mentioning it opened the door to too many questions.

  So Selina picked up the newspaper she’d brought with her, telling Ivy when she’d asked that it was for the wait.

  She’d already done the crossword puzzle, Ivy leaning over frequently to interrupt or snatch Selina’s pen to fill in an answer.

  Selina snapped the paper, flipping through the international headlines.

  An inquiring meow sounded across the roof, and Ivy made a small sound of delight. Lowering the paper, Selina smiled at the little gray cat who padded over to them. “Stalker,” she told the cat as she brushed against Selina’s shins, wending through her legs.

  Ivy leaned over, stroking the cat’s back. “Do you know that free-ranging domesticated cats are responsible for the death of billions of birds and mammals each year? Our little fur-baby here is a stone-cold hunter.”

  Selina smiled, scratching the cat’s whiskery chin. “I’m shaking in my boots.”

  Ivy frowned down at the cat. “So are the birds.”

  The cat blinked up at Ivy, as if scowling herself, and scuttled off into the dark.

  Selina snickered, picking up the paper again and flapping through it.

  Ivy smirked. “You pretend to be serious and broody, but beneath that mask, I know you’re smiling all the time.”

  Selina waved her off, snapping the sagging paper upright. She paused at the Science section, sighing as boredom set in, and tapped the article on the front page. “You think this stuff is all just hocus-pocus?”

  Ivy leaned over, skimming the article. “Ley lines?”

  Selina shrugged, glancing to the alley below. All clear. “ ‘Naturally occurring pathways of energy that run across the earth like highways.’ Sounds fake to me.”

  Ivy hauled the paper toward herself. “Oh, they’re real, all right. They’ve done tests on them—some of the energy is so strong that if you find a ley line on a hill and put your car in neutral, it can move the car uphill for you.”

  “That’s got to be a hoax.”

  Ivy frowned at her over the paper. “This is the Science section. They don’t publish hocus-pocus, as you called it.” Ivy paused for a moment, as if weighing some internal debate. Selina held still as she did. At last, Ivy nodded, more to herself than anything, and said, “There’s a ley line outside Gotham.”

  Selina scanned the rest of the page. “That’s not in the article.”

  “That’s because no one knows it’s there. I mean, those of us in the science community do, but…we don’t blab to the press. I’m sure some evil corporation is probably going to find a way to destroy the ley lines.”

  “Probably.” Selina neatly folded the paper and set it aside. “Want to take a drive out there? See the car trick in motion?”

  Ivy considered, then jerked her chin to the alley below. “What about them, though?”

  Selina snorted as two figures entered the alley at last. “This won’t take long.”

  She launched herself over the brick wall of the roof, down the drainpipe, and right into the path of the two midlevel cronies of Carmine Falcone.

  By the time Ivy’s toxins slithered over the roof edge, knocking the men out cold, Selina was grinning.

  It would only be a matter of time before the two of them reported to their boss what she’d deigned to warn them: the League was coming to steal what Catwoman was selling to Gotham City’s underworld. And that the League would raze the city to the ground before they left. They had no interest in alliances, in money.

  Because what Selina was selling…it was that valuable. And to get it back, to avoid it falling into the wrong hands, the League would make sure that every lowlife and criminal in Gotham City was swept away in the bloodbath that would soon be unleashed on the city.

  If the underworld did not prepare. If they did not ready to strike back. If they were content to continue being grunts and worms.

  Gotham City would fall—but not to these foreign interlopers.

  It would fall to her.

  * * *

  —

  “I’m assuming this car is stolen.” Ivy frowned at the Range Rover’s black leather interior. She perched on the leather as though she couldn’t stand to have it touch her skin.

  “It is,” Selina said mildly. She’d swapped out her helmet for an onyx domino mask that revealed the bottom portion of her face, her hair hidden beneath the hood of a heavy black sweatshirt. Ivy, surprisingly, had said nothing when Selina emerged, car in tow, with her helmet stashed in the back seat. It seemed that silence was about to end, however.

  “Do you know what sort of evil the leather industry does on a daily basis? The slaughter?”

  “Hence you being vegan,” Selina said.

  Ivy watched the city passing in a blur. “You’re not going to laugh about it?”

  “It’s your life. Your choices about food don’t impact mine.”

  Ivy studied her. “You really need the mask?”

  Selina snorted. “Little steps.”

  Ivy shrugged, monitoring the dark road ahead. The ley line was forty minutes to the west of the city, most of that drive down a single-lane road with no trees or anything to surround it. Only a flat, barren plain. “This used to be a forest.” Ivy motioned to the hints of grass the headlights revealed. “It was cut down in the early 1900s to fuel the expansion of Gotham.”

  “Never grew back?”

  “Obviously not.”

  Selina frowned. “The city should have planted new trees.”

  “Back then, no one gave a shit. Still don’t.”

  Selina considered. “What would it cost—to replant the forest here?”

  “A lot. And it’d take a long time for anything to grow.”

  There was enough sorrow in her voice, enough resignation, that Selina said, “Well, maybe some of our profits…Maybe it can go to that.” More green spaces were never a bad thing. Not at all.

  Ivy studied her for a long minute, and Selina kept her attention on the road, monitoring for any deer or wildlife trying to cross as she gave her space to reply.

  Ivy said a bit softly, “I’ve never had many friends.”

  Selina was grateful for the road to distract her.

  “And even though it’s risky, this little trio of ours…” Ivy’s voice remained soft. “It’s more fun than I’ve had in ages.” She swallowed. “I went through school so fast I never got the chance to, you know—be normal. Go to parties or hang out with kids my age.”

  “I could be forty-five
for all you know.” Selina often felt like she was. She certainly hadn’t done anything society liked to call normal while growing up.

  But she’d tried to give it to Maggie. As best she could. Making Maggie happy had made up for the lack of having a typical teenage experience. Mostly.

  “You’re not forty-five,” Ivy said, snickering. “What I can see of you certainly doesn’t look like it. And you don’t talk like you are, anyway.”

  Selina laughed a little. “Harley complains about my fancy-talking.”

  “Harley is just being Harley.”

  Selina asked carefully, “What’s up with you two—your history?”

  She’d been dying to know for weeks now.

  Even in the darkness of the car’s interior, Selina could have sworn she saw a blush spread on Ivy’s face. “We hook up. Harley was one of the first people I met after all the school stuff was done and I started doing this. The Poison Ivy gig, I mean. And I fell…hard.”

  “And Harley?”

  A shrug. “I’m a distraction for Harley, I think. From the things that haunt her.” Ivy held up her hands, vines pulling away to reveal bare flesh. “It’s hard to be together when one of you is literally toxic.”

  “I thought you could control your toxins,” Selina said, still mesmerized, despite the horrors of Ivy’s past, by what she’d become.

  Ivy let the vines cover her hands again. “I can. But sometimes, if I lose control…It’s a risk. Skin-to-skin contact.”

  It had to be lonely as hell to be that way, to worry like that.

  Perhaps it was one of the most unforgivable things those scientists had done to her.

  Ivy waved away her own words. “It didn’t matter, anyway. Harley has never wanted to put a label on us. After the Joker, she said she wanted to be free, but…I don’t know if it’s truly because she doesn’t want to be tied down, or because she worries that the Joker will take vengeance on anyone who dates her.”

  Noble. “I thought he’s her ex, though.”

  “He is. But I’m not sure if Harley is even entirely over him. The Joker speaks to some broken part of her, a part I can’t reach.” Ivy’s eyes flickered.

  A good friend—Ivy was truly a good friend. “Harley deserves better than someone like the Joker.” Someone like you, Selina added silently.

  Ivy drummed her fingers on the arm of her seat, the vines along her hands shifting a bit with the motion. “He’s a monster. He’s worse than a monster. I don’t know if you ever met him, but he’s…” Ivy rubbed her face.

  “I’ve heard enough to know how awful he is.” Cold licked down her spine at the thought of it.

  “Evil. He is evil,” Ivy insisted.

  “And Harley wants to be with him?” The question slipped out before Selina could stop it.

  After working with Harley and Ivy these past few weeks, it still baffled her. Ivy was smart, funny, and warm. Yes, her history was pained, yes, she was a criminal, and definitely a bit of a fanatic, yes, but…Selina didn’t understand it. Why Harley would choose to run to the Joker. Especially when she could have Ivy.

  “I’ve wanted to ask Harley that every day for the past year,” Ivy said hoarsely.

  “Why don’t you?” It wasn’t her business, Selina reminded herself, even as she tried to convince herself that she was asking only to better know her allies.

  “Because if I confront Harley about him, it will only drive her away, and I’d rather be at her side and keep an eye on her than be shut out of her life completely.” Ivy’s laugh was low—sad. “It’s pathetic, I know.”

  “No, it’s not,” Selina said, and meant it. “For the person you love…you find yourself making choices like that. Living in gray areas. It’s not pathetic at all.”

  God knows she’d done plenty of that. Gladly. Still would.

  Ivy stared out the window. “I’m not sure if Harley even knows—that I still feel this way. Still want more with her, more for us. She’s better at hiding that sort of stuff than you realize.”

  Selina refrained from saying that Harley hadn’t given any sort of sign about returning Ivy’s intentions. She wasn’t that cruel.

  Ivy blurted, “Please don’t say anything to her.”

  “I won’t.” Selina studied Ivy for as long as she dared to take her eyes off the road. She admitted quietly, “I’ve never had any friends, either. Doing this sort of thing?” She waved a hand to the car, their little joyride to the ley line. “Never done it before.”

  “Why?”

  Selina debated lying. Wanted to lie. But she said, “Because I had something important that I needed to take care of. And it required all my time, my energy to do it. Friends were a luxury I couldn’t afford.”

  Ivy’s throat bobbed. “And what happened—to that something you had to take care of?”

  Selina steered the car into the dark. “I made a sacrifice, and then I didn’t need to take care of it anymore.”

  * * *

  —

  Ivy told Selina where to stop, pointing out an abandoned factory that loomed like an iceberg in the sea of blackness before them. A dusty service road led off the paved street to the warehouse, dirt crunching under the Range Rover’s wheels as they approached.

  “Did you bring me here to murder me?” Selina asked as she put the car in park.

  Ivy laughed. “If I’d wanted to do that, wouldn’t it have happened by now?” She threw open the door, stepping into the night, and Selina followed suit.

  The night was brisk, the stars clearer above them. Calm and quiet and safe.

  Ivy gulped down a breath of air. “I’d forgotten—what fresh air tastes like.”

  “Me too,” Selina murmured. In the silence, they stared up at the glittering bowl of the sky.

  Movement caught her eye, and Selina glanced to Ivy in time to see her tip her chin up, her face bathed in moonlight. All along the vines on her hands, peeking through her sheet of red hair, white blossoms began to bloom, as if opening up to the stars themselves. The petals nearly glowed, as if they were lit from within.

  Ivy slid her gaze toward Selina, toward the mouth Selina knew was hanging open. “Not all the side effects of my transformation were awful or deadly.” More flowers bloomed in her hair, until a crown of them flowed over her brow.

  “It’s beautiful,” Selina whispered.

  Ivy smiled, wide and warm. “Thank you.”

  She spoke with enough gratitude that Selina wondered when the last time was that someone had said such a thing.

  Selina’s chest tightened at the thought. Shoving that tightness away, Selina cleared her throat and asked, “So this ley line, where is it? Under the factory? I thought it would be more obvious.”

  Ivy nodded, those flowers furling up and slipping back into her hair. “People have been drawn to ley lines throughout history, without even knowing why or what they were. There’s no scientific reason for them, for how ancient people knew those lines were there. All we have to go on is that many of the world’s monuments are built atop them, Stonehenge being one of the most famous. You can feel the energy in some of the lines, in the stones on them.”

  “I can’t feel anything.”

  Ivy beckoned, striding toward the wood-and-steel warehouse amid the barren field. Selina marked every detail as they approached: the one-story building, the high-up windows that seemed mostly shattered, the sagging tin roof. The wooden slats that made up the siding had been cracked or ripped away in spots, the gravel drive leading to the building mostly overgrown with weeds and grass. No one had been here in a long, long while.

  “It might fall down on us,” Ivy warned as they paused by the small antechamber that jutted out from the side of the building, the glass window in the steel door caked with grime, “so don’t go inside, but the line cuts through right about…here.” She pointed to a spot in the grass bene
ath her feet, moonlight shining on shards of glass scattered among it. “You feel it?”

  Selina stood where Ivy indicated. Still nothing. “I think I’ll just have to take your word for it.” She pointed to the car. “No hill to try it on, it seems.”

  “I know. I just wanted to get out of the city for a while.”

  “I should have guessed as much.” Selina chewed on her lip. “So no one has ever harnessed the ley line’s power? Here or elsewhere?”

  Ivy shook her head, red hair flowing like a silken river around her. “No. Why?”

  Selina followed a straight path through the grass and debris, walking the ley line. “Have you ever heard of a Lazarus Pit?”

  A beat of silence. Selina looked over her shoulder at Ivy as the woman asked, vines slithering around her wrists as if curious, too, “No, what is that?”

  Selina went back to tracing inside the line with her steps. “There are only a few dozen in the world. They’re naturally occurring pools with regenerative powers. All atop ley lines.”

  “I’ve never heard of them.”

  “Because their owners don’t want you to.”

  “And you were making fun of me for the hocus-pocus earlier?”

  Selina shrugged. “Legend claims that a Lazarus Pit can keep old age and sickness at bay. Even bring you back from death.”

  “Hence their owners protecting them. And the name.”

  Selina nodded, pivoting on one foot—just as she’d done so many times on the balance beam at the Y—and traced the line back toward Ivy. “Once used, though, the Pit’s powers are drained forever. So it’s a onetime get-out-of-jail-free card.”

  “How do you know about them, if they’re so secret?”

  Selina paused her steps. “In the place where I was trained…” Ivy tensed at that, at the implication of that word. Trained. She’d know from that word alone what Selina was. That she’d answered to deadlier powers than Falcone or the Joker. “They had a Lazarus Pit in the catacombs. It was guarded day and night. I first heard about it from the other students, who claimed they heard instructors whispering about it.”

 
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