Catwoman soulstealer, p.27
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       Catwoman: Soulstealer, p.27
 

           Sarah J. Maas
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And when the first of the anonymous donations came in a month ago, and all of Maggie’s medical bills were paid off…they had cried.

  Selina knew, because she’d been in the shadows outside their beautiful home in the suburbs the night they opened the letter in their kitchen.

  But all the money in the world, all that stolen cash and jewels and art, hadn’t been enough to stop the disease from ravaging her sister’s lungs and stealing away her life. Stealing away that beautiful, lovely soul.

  She’d known that, long before coming back. Before she’d given them the money.

  She’d been keeping tabs on Maggie with the League’s computers, hacking into Gotham City’s social workers’ reports on the status of her sister’s new home, accessing her medical records to check up on the doctor’s latest assessment and treatments.

  It had been her secret rebellion, kept hidden from Nyssa and Talia’s watchful eyes. Outside contact was forbidden, as were any tethers to their past lives. But if they’d caught on to the backdoor hacking she’d used to hide any trace of her history on the computer, they’d never called her out. So she’d waited until the dead hours of the night, when even assassins were asleep, and fired up the computer in the compound’s subterranean workshop.

  And then one night, six months ago, she’d sat down to do her regular check-in on Maggie.

  She read the doctor’s latest report as if through a long tunnel.

  Life expectancy: a few months at best.

  It was the doctor’s note at the end—It is now about making Maggie as comfortable as possible—that broke her.

  Selina had joined the League, their palace of assassins. She’d given everything, lost everything, to honor her bargain with Talia. Her life, her soul, in exchange for Maggie’s safety and happiness.

  But it was not enough. And no matter how much blood she spilled for the League, it could not save her sister.

  But something else could.

  She’d remembered what the scientist had spoken of: the Lazarus Pit.

  Not caring about the consequences, or what might be demanded as payment, Selina had gone right to Nyssa the next morning. Had explained that Maggie was dying.

  Selina had spent a year and a half training to bring down empires. She had dug her own grave, recited her final rite, and arose from the dead. She had done everything Nyssa and Talia had asked her to do. And yet when she had asked Nyssa to use the Pit on her sister, to save Maggie, Nyssa had laughed.

  This is modern-day natural selection at work. The Pit cannot be used for such selfish purposes. Or on someone with so little value to offer. Even once the Pit is fully operational, I would not use it for such weaknesses as familial bonds.

  Natural selection.

  The words had sunk into Selina’s brain. Burned there.

  Perhaps you should go back into training, if such sentiments are still a concern to you, Nyssa had mused.

  Selina let her face become cold, heard herself speak the distant, formal words that convinced Nyssa such a thing was unnecessary, that she accepted Nyssa’s decision.

  Then she had planned. With every hateful word out of Nyssa’s mouth, she’d planned.

  She remembered that scientist’s password, his directions.

  How to access the formula. How to steal it.

  She had killed him. For this woman—this League.

  And she would make up for it. To save Maggie and to honor the dying man’s wishes.

  No, it would not fall into the wrong hands.

  Selina slid back into the obedient, quiet role they expected of her. Went on enough successful missions that Nyssa seemed to forget about her request. And the night before she was to leave on another mission…

  She slipped into that lab. And she stole every file and note. All of it, everything the scientist and his partners had discovered, downloaded onto her flash drive, then deleted from Nyssa’s own. Deleted from Talia’s files, the League backups.

  A few more commands had her gaining entry to Nyssa’s bank accounts. Moving huge amounts of cash into a new Swiss account that she’d established on her last mission.

  Money to start with. To get access to what she needed.

  She left at dawn, right out the front door.

  But not before she trashed the Pit. The scientist’s files had shown her how to do that, too.

  Part of her wished she could see the look on Nyssa’s face when she entered that underground lab and found the pool to be dead. Forever.

  Selina was long gone by the time Nyssa did. She knew, though, that they’d find her sooner or later. That Nyssa and Talia would use their usual methods to hunt her down.

  So she’d come to Gotham City. Not because it had once been her home, but because it was the one place where a young, brilliant biochemist was an eco-vigilante by night.

  The League had been keeping tabs on Poison Ivy, debating whether to recruit her. Nyssa wanted her for the Lazarus project.

  Selina wanted Ivy to save her sister.

  Worried whispers sounded down the hospital hall, and Selina slipped inside Maggie’s room, shutting the door. Her sister’s parents didn’t stir. Maggie remained unconscious, breathing labored.

  Selina’s hands shook with every step closer to that bed, longing and terror knifelike in her chest.

  Every question she had asked Ivy about ley lines…All of them were open gaps left by the scientists working on the Lazarus Pits, the ley lines on which the pools naturally occurred. Ivy had unknowingly filled them in. Just as she’d unknowingly helped steal those same chemicals the other night.

  Some had been used to make explosives, yes. But neither Harley nor Ivy nor the GCPD had asked what happened to the semitruck containing the rest of the items Selina had demanded they take.

  The chemicals inside, all needed to create a Pit from scratch. Right on that ley line outside the city.

  She’d been so good to her source at the paper with her Catwoman tips and photos. They hadn’t voiced any questions when their anonymous benefactor asked that they indulge her request for an interest piece on ley lines in the paper. A conversation starter—a way to make sure Ivy didn’t question Selina’s sudden interest when she asked her about them that night on the roof.

  She regretted none of it. Using Harley and Ivy. Lying to them every step of the way.

  None of it.

  Selina crept up to Maggie’s bedside. Her skin was sallow, her lips too pale beneath the breathing mask.

  She carefully sent out a low electromagnetic pulse through her suit that rendered the machines and monitors silent and dead.

  Gently, she slipped the IV from Maggie’s arm, the breathing apparatus from her slender face, and scooped her sister into her arms.

  She was light. So thin.

  Selina hefted her sister over a shoulder in a fireman’s carry, her free hand opening the door for them to slip out. Again, Maggie’s parents didn’t stir, and Selina didn’t look back as she shut the door behind her.

  The hospital halls were deserted.

  Save for a woman at the desk by the elevator.

  Selina remembered her. The pinched, overworked, hateful face of the receptionist.

  It was pale with fear and shock as she watched Selina stalk by, Maggie over her shoulder. “Y-you can’t—”

  Selina’s steps didn’t falter as she passed. “I can.”

  The woman got a good look at her face. Her face, and Maggie’s.

  Recognition flared there.

  The woman reached for the phone on her desk.

  “Go ahead,” Selina said as she reached the stairwell doors. “Call them.”

  She didn’t wait to see what the woman did as she kicked open the metal door.

  The stairs were chaos. Doctors and nurses and patients and families rushed up and down, desperate to escape the bedlam in the st
reets.

  The last piece of her plan: utter chaos in Gotham City to cover her tracks when she made her move. Courtesy of Arkham Asylum being sprung open by the League of Assassins.

  Selina kept a hand free to hold any frantic people at bay as she hurried down the concrete stairwell to the ground level.

  She had to move quickly.

  Off the machines, Maggie’s lungs might not be able to last long. It was forty-five minutes to the old factory atop the ley line and the Pit she’d built beneath it.

  “Hold on,” Selina breathed over the shouting in the stairwell. “Hold on.”

  The seven Leopards there were wide-eyed as she came barreling out the back door into the alley. The street beyond was filled with smoke and darting figures. There was already blood dripping off the bat of one of the Leopards at the door—an unconscious man in Arkham white sprawled on the pavement a few feet away.

  The Leopards sized up Selina, Maggie draped over her shoulder, and one of them pointed to the street in the opposite direction. “We kept it quiet that way for you.”

  Gratitude crushing her chest, squeezing the breath from her, Selina could only manage a nod.

  The Leopards would remain, guarding the hospital, until the GCPD had the city under control again. Mika had sworn it.

  She didn’t have the words to voice her gratitude for that, either. For the remnant of home that had come when asked.

  Selina started for the clear street beyond, keeping her jog as even as possible to avoid disturbing Maggie. She’d stashed her Mercedes a few blocks away days ago, waiting for this.

  No one stopped her as she crossed the wild street, cars honking at each other, some people abandoning them completely to flee. Not that way, then.

  Selina hit another alley, sprint turning into a run. She could see it—the black Mercedes parked along the street, covered in a day’s worth of tickets. The hidden keys taped to the chassis, just under the trunk.

  “Hold on,” she repeated to her sister.

  Fifty feet. Forty. Thirty.

  “Selina.”

  She had not heard her own name in over two years.

  It rang through her, foreign and heavy. She didn’t care how Harley had figured it out.

  Selina. She almost mouthed her name, just to taste it. Hear it again.

  Nyssa and Talia hadn’t used it. The other assassins had called her kitty-cat or variations on it.

  But there was Harley Quinn, striding from around a corner, her bleeding, swollen lips twisted in a sneer.

  Aiming two throwing knives at her.

  “Stop.” Harley’s order was a rough snarl. Blood covered her knees, her arm. “I said stop!”

  Selina kept walking for the car.

  “I SAID STOP!”

  Selina paused, looking over a shoulder just as Ivy arrived at Harley’s side. Blood leaked from Ivy’s temple, her knuckles were raw, her vine-whip in shreds at her wrist. Her pallid skin saying enough about the depleted stocks of her toxins.

  Harley kept the knives cocked toward her. “You lied. You are a liar.”

  Selina said nothing. Maggie’s breathing was a soft rasp in her ear.

  “You’re in the League,” Harley said. Those were tears streaking down her pale makeup. “And you used me, used us to get to him.” The Joker. “You manipulated us into fighting for you—into doing this for you.” She gestured with her free hand to the city in chaos.

  Ivy was glancing between them, face ashen with pain.

  “We rushed for Arkham when we saw the explosion. To get you out,” Harley spat. “We went by the Statue of Saint Nicholas. Or tried to. And you know what we saw?”

  Selina refused to speak. Maggie’s raspy breathing rattled in her ear.

  Harley was shaking—with rage. Utter and complete rage.

  “We saw my man arrive, waiting for you. We saw the GCPD show up instead.”

  Selina had placed a second call on her way over here. Straight to Commissioner Gordon. Warned him who would be arriving at the statue.

  Harley kept the knives trained on Selina. “They hurt him. His top men are dead. And they dragged him back to Arkham. They dragged him back after you set him up, you liar!”

  The last words were screamed. Maggie stirred, a phlegm-filled inhale sounding, and Selina’s temper went razor-sharp. At the words, at the delay, at Harley’s twisted obsession with the Joker. At the pain and fear on Ivy’s face.

  It built and built, until it was a wave, a tsunami, cresting and crashing within her. Until she didn’t bother to stop it. Not anymore.

  “Then let them drag him away!” Selina snapped, her shout cutting through the chaos. “Let him stay in there! Do something for yourself and your family. Get out while you can—before it’s too late, Harley!”

  “You don’t know shit,” Harley spat. “You don’t know anything, about me, or what I’ve been through—”

  “You think I don’t?” Selina pointed to the Leopard spot just visible on her wrist. “You think I don’t know what it’s like to feel like there are no options, no choices, no help coming to protect who I love?” She gripped Maggie harder, adjusting her slight weight on her shoulder.

  Ivy spoke up, her voice steady. “She’s right, Harley. You and me—let’s walk away. Let’s help her. Can’t you see that little girl is sick?” She pointed to Maggie. “Let’s help her. Then you and me, we can figure something out, get you some help—”

  “Shutupshutupshutup!” Harley screamed. Ivy cringed, stepping back. Harley kept the knives aimed on Selina. “I don’t need any”—her voice broke—“help!”

  She did. Perhaps they all did.

  “Put the knives down,” Ivy pleaded, her voice edged in panic.

  Maggie drew in another rough, mucus-filled breath. Time. Selina didn’t have time. She had to risk it. Had no other choice.

  Keeping her movements as smooth as possible for Maggie, she started walking again, heading for the car. She blocked out the devastation on Ivy’s face as she turned her back, the surprise and pain. And Selina finally said without looking back, perhaps for Ivy’s sake, perhaps for all their sakes, “The world is better off with him behind bars. And so are you, Harley.”

  Selina felt the impact in her shoulder before the pain splintered through her.

  Saw her blood splatter on the car window.

  Selina staggered, a low sound breaking from her as her body buckled—

  She shut it out. Shut down the pain, the shock rippling through her body, her bones.

  She stumbled one step—two. And kept walking.

  Kept gripping Maggie. She left the throwing knife where it had embedded in her back, right into her upper shoulder, its tip jutting clean through her front.

  She didn’t hear Ivy’s screamed words or Harley’s answering ones. Selina grabbed the concealed keys, unlocked the sedan, and carefully laid Maggie across the back seat. Blood had spread all over Maggie’s hospital gown and bare, too-thin legs.

  Her sister didn’t stir as Selina arranged her bare feet on the pale leather seats, made sure she was secure, and shut the door. The movement dragged a moan of pain from her gut.

  Selina’s hands shook as she reached for the knife, shock setting in, pain a dull roar.

  She had been undefeated in the ring. She had learned to take hit after hit and never went down, never yielded.

  Selina clenched her teeth, swallowing a scream as she yanked the knife out and clapped a hand to the front of the gushing wound, applying as much pressure as she could stand as she reached for the smooth black arc of the driver’s door handle. She wasn’t going down here. Not now.

  Opening the door, she grimaced as her shoulder screamed at the movement.

  Harley aimed her other throwing knife at Selina. “I’m going to kill you, you—”

  A flash of red and green.
>
  Ivy stepped in front of that knife. “Stop, Harley,” she pleaded. “Stop.”

  “Get out of the way.” Harley’s voice trembled.

  Ivy spread her arms, held her ground. “I am begging you. As your friend, I am begging you not to throw again. Not to throw that knife at our friend.”

  They had come for her. To Arkham. To save her.

  Selina shut down the thought. Forty-five minutes. All that remained between Maggie and the Pit. Her sister might not even have that time.

  Selina slid into the front seat, using the bloodied knife to slice up a long strip of the seat belt. A few brutal motions, a few grunts of agony, and it was wrapped around her shoulder. Stanching the bleeding. Or as much of it as she could manage.

  Her fingers shook as she reached for the push-button engine ignition.

  She could barely move the gearshift out of park and into drive.

  But as the car grumbled to life, purring beneath her…

  There was Ivy, pale green smoke—a lingering, last tendril—weaving around their feet. The few remaining flowers along Ivy’s shredded vines closed up. Vanished.

  And there was Harley, sobbing, reaching a hand out toward Ivy.

  Ivy’s shoulders shook. Crying—her friend was crying, too, as the toxins rose around them.

  Selina pulled from the parking space, gunning the engine as she took off down the street. Through the rearview mirror, just before Selina turned down another street, she looked back.

  Saw Ivy wrap her arms around Harley just as her toxins took effect, lowering her gently to the concrete, the knife clattering. Then there was nothing but green smoke.

  A trickle of blood still leaked from her shoulder.

  She pressed her palm against the wound to stanch the bleeding, but the pain…

  She pushed that Mercedes’s engine to the breaking point.

  Every bump sent agony burning through her, but Selina rerouted the pain, let it focus her. Over the roar of the engine, the road, even with the sound-canceling tech of the car, she couldn’t hear if Maggie was breathing. Didn’t dare take her eyes off the road for long enough to check. Not when the speedometer passed 100…110…120.

  She wove through traffic, frantic and sloppy drivers honking in her wake, adrenaline honing her vision. Blood leaked down her front and back.

 
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