Excerpt

Chapter 1

 

As usual a strange kind of instinct guided Seb. It always began as a gnawing tingle at the back of his mind, like an internal sat nav that drew him to another seemingly random location. He must’ve easily covered twenty miles that night, starting at the Pleasure Beach, where the masses knocked back a mixture of cheap rides and greasy food with abandon, right down to the promenade, before finally ending up here, at what had once been a church, but where now stood a ruined shell plastered in rotting boards.

He took a moment to admire the view, ignoring the sensation of cold rain on his skin. The church stood on the crest of a hill. Down below the road curved up and away from the promenade to where he now stood. Buildings, largely abandoned, flanked the church on either side of the road, although some still served as a refuge for the kind of folks he had no intention of spending quality time with.

Some might say it was dangerous out here, at this time, and past experience had told him that it wasn’t an unwise assertion. But for him, it was home, his haven. He didn’t belong in the day, not that he knew why, he’d given up asking that question many years ago. Under the sun he felt dulled, slowed even, but by night, he felt alive.

***

He didn’t remember falling asleep, not that it was a surprise at all. His mindless treks always took their toll, and tonight’s near marathon was easily up there as a personal best. He never felt it at the time, but boy did he feel it in the morning. Often he would sleep it off where he fell, but this time his rest had been interrupted. He woke up with a start, heart thudding in his chest.

It came again. What was it? A scream? Something else? He stood up and stretched tired limbs. He glanced at his watch. Four in the morning. Great. Another shriek came, this time from somewhere near the promenade. It wasn’t a happy scream, like those of the drunk zigzagging their way home. He knew those well. This was different. Someone terrified.

Another scream. Nearer this time. He pressed himself into the alcove, seeking solace in the shadows. As he watched, a young woman came hurtling round the corner at the bottom of the road. She fell once, knees scraping the pavement. She tried scrambling up but her legs kept slipping underneath her. Her breath puffed out clouds of cold mist as she dragged herself up the hill towards the church.

‘Almost there…almost there.’

She was halfway up the hill now, not fifty yards from where he crouched. She fell again, her face hitting the ground with a sick thud. Blood splattered the pavement. Something small and white clattered onto the road.

Screw this.

He dashed out of the alcove and raced across the road. Somehow the woman had managed to stumble to her feet again by the time he reached her. Standing upright, her gait unsteady, she took jerky, random steps forwards. A glazed look crossed her eyes, tiny pupils fixed at something beyond him. He slowed to a halt a few feet in front of her, eyes drawn to the vicious wound that stretched across her stomach, almost the width of her body. One hand covered the seeping lacerations, the other reached out before her, towards him, but focused on somewhere beyond. He swallowed down a hot gush of bile. How the hell was she still standing?

‘Wait!’

Seb waved his arms to get her attention. She slowed, her head turning towards him. She blinked once before collapsing into his open arms, the impact making him stagger backwards. Her eyes found his, pupils darting in multiple directions, taking him in. Something seemed to register in her mind and she squirmed, arching her back in an attempt to escape his grasp.

‘Let me go!’ she hissed, trying to push him away but collapsing back with a wince.

‘No way. You need a paramedic or something. What the hell happened?’

She didn’t respond. For a moment her eyes froze like a frightened animal. Then she blinked. Some semblance of awareness returned. Angry eyes locked on him.

‘Lemme go!’ she screamed, ‘Lemme-fucking-go!’

She lashed out, the palm of her hand smashing into the side of his skull. He staggered, stunned, clutching his head as she stumbled past him towards the church.

‘What the hell was that for?’ He followed her up the road, shaking his head, ‘Miss, you need…’

If dread could be manifested as a force, he felt it then. A wave of something washed over him, as cold as death, stopping him in his tracks. His skin erupted in goose pimples, the air temperature dropping like a stone. Breath condensed in front of his face. The street lamps flickered. The woman obviously felt it too. They both turned to face the base of the hill.

‘No. He’s found me! He’s found me!’

It didn’t so much as walk out of the dark, it oozed. Its form coalesced from the gloom, a slight shimmering in the air, a shifting of shadows, before condensing into something resembling a human that now stood, unmoving, just at the periphery of the streetlight.

Yet this was no human.

Unnaturally tall, easily touching seven foot, the thing wore a dark suit that hung loosely off a pencil-thin frame. Its head was dipped, face hidden beneath a black fedora with a single silver band. As he watched, the creature’s head rose. Black eyes met his. Something cold trickled down his spine.

It began to move forwards, its movement jerky, as if it were animated by invisible string. Its mouth opened into a wide grin, jaw distending to almost impossible proportions, baring a set of dagger-like incisors.

‘You see it, don’t you?’

He’d forgotten she was even there. He looked back at the woman, managing the barest of nods. She reached out to him, her hand shaking.

‘Come with me.’

‘What?’ he mumbled, not able to take his eyes off the thing before him.

‘Come on!’

She yanked his arm, jerking him back with a strength that belied the extent of her injuries.

‘Oh Sarah, why do you run so?’ the voice, like steel scraping steel, drifted up the hill.

‘You should have known better than to run,’ it continued, the distance closing.

Seb stumbled backwards and fell. He’d never believed it when people said they’d been frozen with fear, but the phrase didn’t do it justice. He was beyond paralyzed. His limbs simply absent passengers. The creature’s gaze shifted to him then:

‘And I see you’ve brought a friend?’

Shit.

The woman pulled at him again. Adrenalin filled numbed legs and he forced himself off the ground. They staggered towards the church, two strangers bound by fear. She collapsed against the door and slid down, her eyes rolling up in her head.

‘No! No!’ he said, shaking her by the shoulders. With his eyes off the creature it felt like some of the hold it had on him, like a predator on its prey, had been lifted. He caught her head as it rolled forward, her eyes staring beyond him, unfocused.

‘Go…’ she slurred, ‘He doesn’t…want…you.’

‘Now, now, Sarah, you know I don’t like it when you run. I’ve travelled a very long way to find you.’ The voice carried around the building, dancing in the air, taunting them.

Seb pushed against the door. It gave a bit but didn’t open. The wood was rotten, the building abandoned for years. He stepped back and kicked. Something cracked inside the door frame.

‘Just give up, Sarah, you know you can’t escape.’

Footsteps scraped against tarmac. It was only feet away. Seb felt his mind squirming, trying to go somewhere safe, to lock itself away from the encroaching horror. He shook his head and kicked again. The door buckled. The lock shattered and the wooden barrier swung open with a painful creak. Sarah fell, hitting the floor with a thud. A groan escaped her lips. He gripped her under her arms and dragged her inside. Slamming the door shut, he scanned the nave, spotting a handful of upturned pews stacked against the wall. He grabbed at the nearest by the edge but his palms were slick with sweat and the pew slipped free, crashing back onto the stone floor.

Footsteps on the path. A cheery whistle.

Come on! Come on!

He took a better grip this time and dragged it backwards. He manoeuvred it until the end pressed firmly against the flat of the door. He lurched back, arms screaming, flipping the other end so that the base was wedged against the font. It would have to do. He turned and hoisted Sarah up and dragged her towards the back of the church. They collapsed at the altar, her head on his chest. Her breathing was slow, irregular. His own heart crashed against his ribs.

‘Knock, Knock’.

He pulled his knees up and buried his head in his hands. He was going to die here, he knew that. He didn’t know what this thing was. It looked like a man. Spoke the words of a man, but it was as inhuman as could be. He had never considered himself religious, but at that moment he resorted to the only thing he could think of, which was pretty apt, considering the location.

‘Our Father…’

The chuckle from beyond the door sliced through him like blades.

‘Your Father…’ The air shimmered again, by the door. The shadows swirled like Chinese dragons, the creature reforming on their side of the door. ‘…died a long time ago.’

Seb let out a wail and his chest began to heave in stricken sobs.

‘No, no. Please, don’t be sad,’ it said.

It didn’t walk anymore. It simply drifted down the aisle towards them. It stopped six foot away, head cocked to one side.

Sarah stirred. Her eyes flickered open.

The horror drifted closer. It loomed over them now. Seb looked down, staring at a pair of polished black loafers.

‘Look at me.’

He didn’t move. He forced his gaze towards the floor.

‘Look. At. Me.’

Something in that voice compelled him. He tried with all his strength, the tendons in his neck straining. His temple throbbed, but it was of no use. He felt his chin rising.

Those black eyes grinned down. Its teeth were bared, a sickening smell of rotten meat washing over him. A warm tear trickled down his cheek.

‘Oh, is the little protector afraid?’ the thing said, cocking its head to one side, a thin, tapered finger pressed against its black lips in mock concern.

‘Screw you,’ Seb said.

The thing stopped in its tracks. It blinked, the lids coming from the sides, not top and bottom, causing Seb’s stomach to heave. The creature’s mouth formed a perfect ‘o’ as it took a mocking step backwards.

‘My, my,’ it whispered, the shock only momentary, that grin returning. ‘We do have some spunk, don’t we?’

Its hand delved into its sleeve, withdrawing a slender dagger. The blade was maroon, caked in dried blood. The creature flowed forwards again, fingers outstretched, the blade inverted, pointing down.

Here it comes. He pressed his head hard into his chest, eyes scrunched shut, wishing it would be over quickly. The smell of rot was overpowering, the stench washing over him in waves.

A sudden movement. Sarah. It was between her and himself, out of sight of the fiend. Something, a blade of some kind, glinted as she pulled it from her sleeve. Her eyes met his, lucid this time. She gave a barely perceptible nod. He ducked to one side as she lunged past him at speed. Her wrist flicked out, he heard a thunk, followed by a surprised gasp. He dared to look behind them.

The creature had staggered back. Its black eyes were wide, focused on the knife embedded in its chest. It gently touched the hilt, its finger tracing the blade up to where the metal vanished into its chest and a thick, viscous ooze had begun to seep out. Soundlessly, the creature toppled over.

‘Your name,’ Sarah whispered.

She didn’t look good. Dark, almost black blood trickled from the side of her mouth.

‘Your name!’ she gasped.

‘Seb.’

‘Come closer, there isn’t much time. The blade isn’t runed. You know what we have to do.’

He shook his head. ‘Runed? What? Sorry, I don’t know what you mean.’

In the aisle, the thing twitched. A leg jerked.

‘You weren’t there by accident.’ It wasn’t a question.

‘Yes. No. I mean. I don’t know why I was there.’

‘You were drawn. I can see it. You are Latent.’

‘Listen, I don’t -’

She grabbed him by the shirt, pulling him closer. Her breath smelled of copper.

‘You must take what I’ve found,’ her eyes rolled, her body sagging, he caught her just before she slumped back onto the stone. Her eyes refocused. ‘Look at me.’

He forced himself to look at her. Her eyes were like pools of crystal, drawing him in. He felt the world drifting away.

Movement behind him. He glanced back. The thing’s leg jerked again. One foot drew back, a knee rising, leather scraping on the floor.

No way! No bloody way!

It sat upright, the blade still stuck in its chest.

‘Seb!’

Trembling, he forced his gaze away from the thing. He found her eyes again. Cold hands rose and gripped the sides of his face.

‘See,’ she whispered.

A searing light lanced through his mind. His brain burned as energy poured from her, a pure white blast of light that enveloped him completely.

As quickly as it started, it was over. He found himself sat on his backside, a jolt in his palms as he hit the floor. His head throbbed. White stars danced in his vision. He glanced down. Sarah stared past him, at peace.

From somewhere distant a siren shrieked, the increase in pitch telling him that help was coming. Never before had he been so relieved to hear the sound of officialdom. He staggered to his feet, unsure of what Sarah had done, but acutely aware that he once again had control of his limbs. He turned and froze.

In the aisle, the thing took hold of the blade in its chest, and with a slick, smooth manoeuvre that made Seb’s stomach lurch, pulled it out without so much as a flinch. It wafted the blade under its nose, seemingly lost in the intricacy of the design.

Seb didn’t need a second chance. He darted from the altar and vaulted over the upturned pews to the right of the fiend, where it still appeared rapt by the weapon in its grasp.

The door loomed before him. He cracked his knee on a pew and fell sprawling to the ground, his bottom teeth slicing into his top lip. Blood filled his mouth. He scrambled to his feet and threw himself against the door.

It didn’t yield. His shoulder throbbed.

Behind him, he felt, rather than heard, the creature as its attention returned to him. Daring a look behind, he saw as it glanced at Sarah then back at him. Confusion passed across its face.

‘What did she do?’ it hissed, the sound nearly pinning him to the wall.

Move Seb! Move! He kicked the door again. Nothing. Then it hit him. The pew! He squatted, took the pew by the base where it was still wedged by the font, and hurled it to one side.

Movement behind him. A gap being closed.

The door opened to an explosion of blue flashing lights. A cacophony of commanding voices ordered him to do something, but they sounded far away, muffled.

He stepped out into the light, into freedom.

The pain that seared his back at that moment was unlike nothing he’d ever felt. A bone-cold presence pressed against him, that smell of death on his neck.

‘Give me what is mine!’ the voice muttered.

He looked down at his hip, where the tip of the blade now protruded. A growing spread of blood bloomed on his shirt. His knees began to give way.

‘Step out of the church!’

The voice pierced the fugue, his conscious mind returning for one last hurrah.

It was a last, desperate action. The fiend pulled him backwards, into the church. The end was nigh, and part of him yearned for the release from this horror, but something, some last reserve he didn’t know he had, did not give in so easily. Energy coursed through him, fight or flight, one last act of defiance before succumbing to the void.

Seb bent forwards, the blade slicing upwards further into his side. Fiery pain screamed. He tumbled forwards and fell into the light. He hit the ground and rolled onto his back. He saw the thing then, half merged with the shadows in the doorway. Its face fixed in a look of pure rage, its teeth bared, jaw distended.  Then footsteps behind him. Shouts of alarm. Authority. The thing shrieked, but did not follow. It melted back into the shadows, the shriek burning his ears as the world faded into darkness.

***

The figure stood, watching silently from his vantage point on a nearby roof as the emergency services converged upon the young man that lay collapsed on the floor in the church doorway. He absently noted the shimmering mist that fled out of the back of the building, the daemon’s mission failed. Turning back to the frenzy at the church, he cast out his limited sense, frowning at what he received.

‘What is it?’ Another man, clad in the same black attire, appeared at his side.

‘I don’t know. Maybe nothing.’ He glanced up at the night, feeling the stirring of reality. It wasn’t a good time to hang around. He nodded downwards, his men obeying without question. With one last look at the church, at the human survivor with the strange aura, Cade turned, and leapt off the building.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Sylph bit back a curse as the van hit another speed bump that cracked her head against the roof of the cramped vehicle. The others smirked but didn’t dare comment. They knew better than that.

‘How long?’ she said.

Luchar checked his watch. ‘Five minutes.’

She nodded and began checking the weapons hidden about her person for the fifth time.

‘You going to tell us then?’

She stopped what she was doing and levelled her gaze at the speaker. Uroc, the biggest of the group, six foot five of muscle, stared back at her. Dumb eyes on a dumb face.

‘Tell you what, Uroc?’ She noticed and ignored Luchar’s attempts to silence the brute. She placed a hand on the commander’s arm, silencing him in an instant.

‘What we’re doin’ ‘ere, that’s what.’

‘You’re here at the will of Master Marek, surely that’s enough?’ she said, her voice laced with steel.

‘That lunatic? That makes me feel so much better.’

The van fell into a tense silence. The only noise the clatter as the vehicle trundled up the narrow road that led to their destination.

She had to act. Luchar was their commander, but he wouldn’t bat an eyelid should one of his men get the wrong idea. She died bravely, Master, would be his report, after dumping her body in a layby somewhere. This was the problem with hired help. It was a no win. Either the mindless brutes of the sheol or paid thugs from the street. Neither was up to Balor’s standards.

‘I suggest, Uroc, that you get your mouth in order. Balor doesn’t react kindly to those who disrespect his chosen.’

‘Screw Balor! Screw your cause! I’m here for the money, nothing else. What’s the deal with this Marek, anyway? Who the hell does he think he is? And what the hell is he doing with all those poor bast -’

Uroc’s head snapped back as his nose exploded against his face. His eyes watered, wide with surprise as blood poured from the pulpy mess. Sylph stood before him, the torch she’d used to strike him held in one hand above his head.

‘What the hell have you do -’

She struck him again, and again. His head cracked back against the inside of the van, bouncing back into another hit. A third and a fourth followed, until all the lights went out. Sylph sat back down and wiped the blood off the torch with a rag, ignoring the eyes that burned into her. When the impromptu weapon was clean, and the sick feeling in her gut had subsided, she raised her head and looked each of the team in the eye.

‘Uroc is guilty of blasphemy against the Lord Balor and has paid the price for that.’

Silence. Some of them openly brimmed with fury, but thankfully none dared act. Not yet anyway.

‘Luchar, you will be my eyes and ears on the outside. Give me ten minutes. If I’m not out by then you have permission to go back to Haven. Clear?’

‘Crystal.’

‘Good,’ she said, already doubting they’d wait ten seconds after she left the van.

The van began to slow. The slat dividing the front with the passengers slid back and Moss peered through.

‘We’re here – what the hell!’

‘Uroc has had a bit of an accident, Moss,’ Sylph said, ‘He may need medical attention, if it’s not too late already.’

‘Yes, Ma’am,’ Moss stammered, a mix of confusion and fear on his face.

The van stopped. Paul jumped out of the passenger side and trudged round the back of the vehicle. The lock clicked and the rear door slid open. Sylph hopped out. A welcome breeze washed over her, removing the cloying scent of sweat that had filled the van.

‘Test, Luchar,’ she said.

Luchar, ever the professional, placed the earpiece in his ear. ‘One two, one two.’

‘I hear you.’

She checked her gear one last time. Ideally she would’ve taken more; the small blades strapped against her wrists the only protection she could conceal in the loose outfit she wore. She checked the iron rods sewn into her sleeves, a last deterrent if a feral sheol made it through. She shook her head. It would have to do. Luchar leaned over and passed her the small rucksack that contained the essential items should things go belly up. He held the grip as she took hold, forcing her to look at him.

‘What is it you’re going to do, Sylph? Dead people don’t talk.’

‘You wouldn’t understand.’ She snapped the bag off him and slung it over her back. ‘Remember,’ she said.

‘Ten minutes.’

‘No more.’

They nodded at each other, and for a moment Sylph felt a twinge of guilt at the way she’d acted. Luchar was a good soldier, a loyal vassal. If he stayed strong perhaps he wouldn’t even get possessed. Balor knows that they needed stable warriors as well as the mindless rabble that Marek seemed intent on employing. At the end of the day though Luchar was merely a foot soldier, an expendable in the war. She gave him a curt nod, glanced one last time at the hostile faces in the rest of the group before setting off across the car park.

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

This was the life. Freedom. A chance to stretch her legs under an open sky. Sure, she was on a mission, one of utmost importance, but she was on her own for the first time in what felt like years, and it felt wonderful. She closed her eyes, mentally checking that her defences were up, hiding her from the prying eyes of the Magistry or their allies. Satisfied, she looked up, ready for duty.

Marek’s warnings rang loud in her mind as she approached the target, what the people of this Shard called a morgue. She had let him down once already, letting the traitor deceive her and escape with Balor’s secrets. She’d deceived them all, Marek included. But she was Sylph’s responsibility. Marek was understanding, but he was not weak. There wouldn’t be a third chance.

For Balor.

As the distance to the building decreased, she sensed out, sending subtle waves through the building, letting them echo through the infrastructure before bouncing back to her. She smiled to herself as the images returned, hours of training paying off. Aside from the police officer at the entrance there were just three others in the building. All of them were fatigued, their minds dim. The officer at the front was more alert than the rest, his mind, at least on a subconscious level, scanning the area for threats. Not that it mattered. He was no match for her.

She slowed as she walked up the path to the building. Luchar had favoured a more direct approach, overwhelming the building with force, slaying those who got in their way. Luchar was wrong, though, youthful eagerness and the desire to prove himself in front of his peers clouding his judgement. She had no time for the natives either, but they were still sentients, their right to life no less than the Balorans. No, she wouldn’t take a life unless she absolutely had to. To hell with what the others thought.

Business time. She sauntered up the path, exaggerating the swing of her hips, giving the police officer a coy glance as she approached. She was attractive to the native males. Another weapon in her arsenal. No point letting any advantage go to waste.

The police officer’s mind awoke as she came within a few feet of him. Good looks and a sexy walk weren’t going to wash on this one so easily. His eyes didn’t betray any alarm, but his mind was fully alert, his aura flaring as he stood to attention.

She pushed out, a subtle jab with the Weave, breaking his focus as she slowed to a stop in front of him.

‘Hey, I’m just going in to collect some documents, left them here earlier,’ she said, putting on as demure a voice as she could manage without gagging.

The mental jab had disorientated him, just a little, enough to cause him to lose focus. It was an unconscious thing in most sentients, their bodies wired to autopilot for certain actions. It was in these moments, when their minds were blank, that they were most susceptible to influence.

‘Sure, sure,’ he said. His mind fluttered, trying to regain some composure. ‘Where’s your ID?’

It was an automatic response, and she flashed a blank card at him, jabbing again at the same time. He looked down. Looked up again. She tensed, a moment of indecision flashing across his face. She felt for one of her blades hidden in her sleeve, the weapon pressed reassuringly against her forearm. After a pause the police officer grunted, returning back to his semi-conscious state. She brushed past, letting out a relieved breath.

She entered into a small lobby. The air smelled of disinfectant. The walls were duck-egg blue. Cheap pictures, their images faded with time, hung all around, no doubt someone’s attempt to put some life into this drab place.

The attendant behind the desk looked up in surprise as she approached. Before the woman could speak, Sylph pushed hard, her will overriding that of the woman in a heartbeat. There was only a modicum of resistance, with one Observer it was easy, the Consensus weak. It was only when multiple Observers were involved that her powers were truly dimmed. If she played it right that situation wouldn’t arise.

‘The woman. Identified by the name Sarah. Homicide from the Roseacre Road killing. Where is she?’ Sylph said.

‘Downstairs, Room 2.’ The woman replied, her eyes blank, staring forwards.

Sylph walked past, letting a fugue settle on the woman. She wouldn’t come round for a few minutes, and would have no memory of what had transpired.

Sylph sensed again as she pushed open the double doors. Of the two remaining sentients in the building, one was upstairs, barely awake too, judging by the faint echo she received. The other was ahead of her, down the stairs, in the direction she was heading in.

She exited the stairwell and found herself in a long corridor with three doors on either side. She approached the door marked ”2”, noting that the remaining sentient was in this very room. Her curiosity pricked slightly as she approached. Now she was closer she could sense the person was awake and alert, using her will would be trickier on this one. She opened the door at pace.

‘Who the hell are you?’

The man, dressed in a white lab coat, stood up from a computer terminal as Sylph entered the room.

He was too alert already, too anxious. She had a good contact with the Weave right then but it wasn’t sufficient to suppress the man’s own reality. She had one option, a desperate action with little chance of success.

‘Sorry, wrong room,’ she turned about. She would hide, wait this one out. It was already late, experience telling her that even the most committed on this realm had to go home some time.

‘Stop right there,’ the man said.

She stopped and slowly turned. Calm. Focus.

‘Who are you? Tell me now, or I’m calling security.’

Small in height, thin of frame. He wouldn’t be any challenge. She could take him without having to resort to her blades if she was quick enough.

‘You won’t call anyone.’

Sylph took a step forward. She channelled; a subtle burst that would give her a split-second head start should she have to act.

‘What the hell? You some kind of junkie? You don’t scare me you crazy bitch.’

He did something then that caught her off guard. She’d assumed that he’d try and run past her in an attempt to rouse the alarm. What she didn’t anticipate was that he’d smash the button on the wall that sent a siren blaring in the night.

Shit.

Sylph lunged forwards. The man had a brief second to recognise the movement before she was on him. One hand struck his throat, crushing his windpipe. Before he even had chance to register the blow a second strike hit him on the side of the temple, striking the vagus nerve. He was unconscious before he hit the ground.

‘Shit!’

She pressed the alarm again, relieved when it fell silent. She stopped for a second, sensing out. It wasn’t good. The police officer was moving through the building at pace.

‘What the hell is going on?’ Luchar’s voice hissed in her earpiece, making her wince.

‘Just be ready. I’m almost done,’ she replied.

‘Just hurry, you’ve stirred up a fricking hornet’s nest!’

She muted him. She didn’t need his shit right then. She needed focus, clarity.

Footsteps clattered outside the room. She moved to the door in a blur, power focused into her muscles and senses. The door opened and the police officer dashed inside, weapon drawn, some kind of stun gun.

‘Steve? You okay? Steph saw something on the cam-’

The police officer saw her and spun on instinct, bringing the weapon to bear. She ducked as the weapon discharged, sending an electrified dart smacking harmlessly into the wall. She came inside his arm and struck the fleshy inside with the back of her hand, the iron-lined sleeves producing a sickening crack as the officer’s wrist broke, sending the weapon clattering to the ground. Before the man could even scream she drove her knee into his stomach. He doubled over. She channelled her strength and hurled him headfirst into the wall with a dull thud, cracking plaster. He collapsed into a heap on the floor.

Sylph hovered over the unconscious officer for a few heartbeats, watching as his unconscious aura settled into a dull blue. Satisfied that nothing could hijack this body, she turned back, ignoring the shrieks in her mind from the hovering sheol, the wraiths drawn by the sudden explosion of fear in the air.

‘No, not here you don’t,’ she said out loud. ‘Go back to the void where you came from.’

She sensed towards the lockers containing the held bodies. All but one returned a faint residue of the Weave, indicative of an imbued. Of the traitor. She yanked the locker open, drawing out the stretcher that contained a body wrapped in a zipped up bag. She turned on her earpiece as she unzipped the bag. She needed to know what was happening upstairs.

‘…police are arriving!’

She shrugged off the growing urgency, what she had to do next required concentration.

‘Hold them, I need five minutes.’

‘Shit, Sylph, we don’t need this!’

‘Five minutes!’

‘Shit!’

***

Luchar looked at the rest of the team. All had heard the exchange with Sylph.

‘You heard her, give her five minutes. Any longer and we’re gone. Understood?’

The men exchanged knowing looks then nodded back at him. They kicked open the van doors and found themselves bathed in a plethora of red and blue lights.

 

Sylph unzipped the bag, revealing the traitor’s ghostly face, forever locked in a thousand yard stare. The medical staff had done well on her body. She seemed serene, almost at peace.

I hope wherever you are, you’re suffering, Traitor.

Something crashed to the floor upstairs as more law enforcement officials entered the building. She didn’t have much time. Putting bitter memories of Sarah and her betrayal aside, she stood over the body, and gently, ever so gently, placed her thumbs against each open eye. She closed her own eyes then, focusing on the sensation of her chest rising up and down in slow, measured breaths. She drew on the Weave, easing the subtle energy into her, careful not to overflow her own capabilities. The procedure was tricky, and she’d only done it once before, when Marek had shown her, yet she had to succeed on this occasion, the price of failure was too great.

Shouts from above. Voices coming closer. Gunshots from somewhere outside. Luchar was doing his bit at least.

Her senses tingled, electricity rippling through her, making her hairs stand on end. Her eyeballs twitched underneath the lids. Her muscles tensed like iron cords. The sensation rippled and multiplied, wave after wave of Weave-energy, building more and more each time.

‘Down here! Someone came this way!’

Time was almost up. She unleashed the pent up energy within her, directing it through her arms into her hands, into the vessel that had once been her friend.

At first there was nothing. A wall of blackness, infinitely tall and wide. The cells of Sarah’s body had been decaying for hours now, the ability to maintain and hold her own reality long gone. Yet, due to her Imbued nature, some vestigial energies would remain. A ghost in the shell. A shade of what she’d been. It was this that Sylph sought now, the last memories of a friend turned enemy.

‘Got a contact on the basement floor. One heat signature in the second room on the left.’

She focused, channelling her energies into a dense wedge. Then, with an exertion that nearly floored her, she pushed.

She was in.

‘In here, in here! Get ready to breach!’ Feet clattered outside. Weapon safety’s being removed.

Images rose to her like ashes dancing above a fire. She glanced and discarded each in an instant, scanning hundreds of fleeting memories in the time it took her heart to beat just once.

The door kicked open. People entered the room, fanning out.

She had it. A face. A boy. Clever bitch! She took a mental image of the boy’s face, memorising every detail, the clarity equal to any camera.

‘Put your hands on your head. Drop to your knees. Do it. Do it now!’

Sylph opened her eyes.

***

Luchar cursed and floored the accelerator. Behind him Paul held the thrashing Moss, the younger man screaming in agony.

‘Fuck! They shot me!’

‘Calm down you stupid shit, you’re not going to die, okay?’ Paul said, pinning Moss down and ripping open the flailing man’s shirt.

‘It still fucking hurts. Damn I wanna go back, I wanna stick that bastard for what he did.’

‘Shut up, both of you! We’re out of here. We’ve drawn too much attention to ourselves already.’ Luchar said, eyeing the rear view mirror. They’d left survivors at the scene. At least eight dead. The response would be immediate. They had to get off-site before reinforcements arrived.

‘What about Sylph?’ Paul said.

‘She can take care of herself.’ Luchar said, swallowing down the sick feeling in his stomach. Marek would not be pleased, regardless of the fact they were only following orders.

‘We’re not waiting for her?’

Luchar whipped the van round a bend at high speed as another car crossed their path. The three men in the back slammed against the door. Paul grunted. Moss screamed.

Just make it back.

 

‘Stay still! Don’t move!’

Sylph obeyed the order, remaining as still as stone. The nearest police officer circled to one side, aiming a firearm at her head. She sensed another one coming up behind her, reaching for one of her wrists above her head. Behind him were two more, both on edge, both with weapons trained on her. She sensed something else too, a feral sheol, very close, Drawn to death and violence like sharks to blood.

She had no choice now. She waited until the officer’s fingers alighted upon her wrist, and acted.

Using the Weave in full force was not an option; their Consensus would not allow a sudden change in reality, so she used it subtly, as she’d been trained to. She channelled it to her arms and legs, increasing strength and speed. She funnelled it to her mind, enhancing synaptic function to the point that time slowed down compared to those around her.

She gripped the officer’s wrist, twisting it hard, breaking bone, forcing him back as he howled in pain. Without looking, she lashed out sideways with her other hand, the one that held the knife in a reverse grip in her sleeve. The weapon flew like a dart, embedding itself to the hilt in the other officer’s neck. The man sagged to his knees choking on his own blood.

The other two officers raised their weapons, their minds sending instructions to their muscles to pull the trigger, but they were slow, so slow, compared to her. She ripped the pistol from the still falling officer’s holster, flicking off the safety and bringing it to bear in one smooth action. She snapped off two shots, each hitting their targets. The men were dead before they hit the ground.

She rounded on the one remaining officer. He kneeled before her, clutching his broken arm. He stared at her through his visor, tear-filled eyes begging for mercy.

‘Please, don’t,’ he said.

A shriek. A screech of nightmares. It howled in her ears, making her wince. The wraith coalesced behind the man, black eyes glinting across the Void.

She aimed the gun at the man.

‘No. Please, no!’

‘I’m sorry. I truly am.’ Her hand shook. The pistol wobbled.

Confusion flashed across his eyes. Then the change began, the sheol diving into a mind paralysed by fear. His veins bulged as his hands raked against his helmet, nails breaking, smearing the visor in blood. The man’s eyes scrunched shut as he let out a howl that was part human, part daemon. His eye reopened. Pools of black stared back at her.

‘Back you go,’ she said, and fired.

She shoved the pistol into the back of her pants and retrieved her knife from its last known location in the other officer’s throat. She wiped it on his shirt before shoving it back into the sheath on her arm. She took a quick scan of the room, feeling no satisfaction in the kills, trying to seek assurance in the fact that the fate she’d given them was much better than the alternative.

Without a second look, her purpose served, Sylph left the mortuary, heading for home.

Advertisements