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uk A Paperback Original 2014 Copyright © Abigail Gibbs 2014 Abigail Gibbs asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN: 978 0 00 750499 2 This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. Set in Meridien by Palimpsest Book Production Limited, Falkirk, Stirlingshire Printed and bound in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.
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O Angel, ravish me in my youth! Render me incapable of thought And reduce me to the primal eldest joy, For I am yours, Until the day Christ calls.
I suppose I always knew I was different; that my fate was set in stone, and that one day, I would sit on a cold, hard throne. A symbol of what I am. A deity of my kind. A deity among many. I was not conscious. I was running through the green grass, screaming her name in a tongue as familiar to me as the shadow that the tall grey-stone building cast in my path. Tears streaked my face and I struggled to climb the steps, hearing the babble behind the closed entrance doors, like the stream beside the lodge that would swell after the winter rains. My polished, square, school-approved heels squealed in protest as I burst through the double doors, coming across the same sight I had seen a thousand times: hundreds of faces turning to me and then blackness. I waited, breathless though asleep, for the scene to replay itself as it always had in the past. But this time was different. Instead of waking up in a
cold sweat, cheeks wet, bed soaked, I drifted into another scene. Now, a tall statue loomed in front of me and sunlight glinted off pale paving and the tumbling water in two identical fountains. Almost as though somebody had hit fastforward, the scene sped up and I watched, captivated, as thousands of suit-clad humans and camera-carrying tourists rushed from one side of a square to the other. The clouds sailed across the grey, simmering ocean of a sky, the square darkening as day turned to night, Nelson lighting up on his column as fewer and fewer people passed by. Eventually, Trafalgar Square emptied of any life, except for a few pigeons and a lone girl. The scene slowed and focused on the girl. Dark hair framed her face and she wore a long black coat, half-unbuttoned to reveal the darkened outline of cleavage and hoisted high enough to show the hem of her black dress, which she tugged down every few minutes. She wasn’t pale, but neither was she blessed with a tan; most striking of all were her eyes, purple, which glowed above the light of her mobile. Slipping her phone back into her pocket, she moved to sit on one of the long stone benches beneath the trees that lined the square. After a single minute, she perked up again, alert and tense. Abruptly, the scene cut and was replaced by another. Darkening, congealing red liquid coated the ground and stained the water of the fountains like wine. Bodies littered the floor and I looked on, sickened as their life and energy drained from their necks and seeped across the city I knew and loved; the city I was torn from . . . I was wrenched back to consciousness. Bolting upright in bed, I reached for the light on my alarm clock, surprised. It had only just turned one o’clock in the morning. I was sweating now and heaving in air, hugging the clock
to my chest so its light illuminated the room. It was empty, but every time I blinked I could see blood, and bodies, and purple eyes . . . Groaning at the vivid images still implanted in my mind, I grabbed a pen and reached up to the calendar above my bed, crossing out and therefore marking the start of another day of the fast-evaporating summer holidays: the 31st July.
CH A P T ER ON E
‘Well, look here, it’s everyone’s favourite recluse.’ An apron came flying my way and I caught it, unfolded it and tied the strings behind my back. ‘Good morning, Nathan.’ ‘Did you hear that, Sophie?’ he asked, turning to one of the new, young waitresses, whose arms were stacked up with crisp white plates as the much older Nathan emptied the dishwasher. ‘It’s a good morning. How unusual.’ I stared at the girl and tried to decide if I’d met her before, or if she was just totally indistinguishable from the other skinny-jeans-clad and powdered orange Saturday staff. ‘And how am I a recluse?’ I asked without tearing my eyes off her. She returned the gaze with wide eyes as sweat began to trickle down her temples. Her fingers nervously tapped against the rim of the lowest plate and as I side-stepped her to grab a pile of menus, she scrambled back and squeaked. The plates in her hands dropped towards the tiled floor.
Haven’t met her before, then. With a flick of my finger the plates froze in mid-air and floated onto the worktop. Before she could react again I left the cramped kitchen and made my way towards the front of the Harbour Café, flipping the ‘Closed’ sign on the door so it read ‘Open’. It was the end of August, and though it was still early I could see through the window that tourists were already beginning to crowd the busy walkway from the working harbour to the more upmarket marina; in the distance, trawler fishing boats squeezed between jetties, bringing with them the smell of fish. Neither was the glass a barrier against the sound of chinking of masts and the cry of the gulls as they swarmed for their chance to snatch a portion of the day’s catch – the score which accompanied every morning in the bustling fishing town of Brixham. Nathan rounded the counter and crossed the café in a couple of bounding strides – not hard because of his tall and lanky build. He cocked his head apologetically. ‘Before you arrived, she was telling me she’s never seen a Sage,’ he explained in an undertone. I shrugged. Her reaction came as no surprise. In the year I had worked at the café, only Nathan – the chef – and I had been permanent, and every new member of staff had given me a wide berth and left shortly after. The only reason I hadn’t lost my job over it was because my boss knew she could get away with paying me less. I wasn’t about to put up a fuss. She had been the only person in town willing to offer me any work at all. Nathan placed a tattooed left hand on my arm as I went to pass. ‘And recluse because you haven’t answered my texts for a month.’ ‘You were in Iceland, and I was in London.’
‘You still could have replied.’ I grabbed the sleeve of his chef’s whites – which were, in fact, black – and removed his arm. Released, I laid the menus containing the day’s specials on the tables, working my way across the café with Nathan following. ‘How was Iceland?’ I eventually asked to fill the silence. ‘Beautiful. Democratic.’ I sighed and rolled my eyes as my back was turned. ‘The humans and Sage there live together as one community, not divided like here.’ I straightened up to see him jerking his thumb back towards the kitchen where Sophie was. ‘Or anywhere,’ he added as an afterthought. I’d heard his rhetoric on Sagean-human relations before, but he had saved up for so long to afford his holiday that I didn’t want to burst his bubble. And yet . . . ‘Sage? Only Extermino live there.’ I couldn’t see his eyes because his hair – curly, brown and almost down to his shoulders – was covering them, but I thought I saw him avert them. ‘Extermino are Sage too, they just believe different things.’ ‘And yes, their scars turn grey just because they play happy families with humans,’ I mocked, but didn’t find the matter funny at all. ‘They’re violent extremist rebels, Nathan. They are enemies of the Athenean monarchy, and of all other dark beings too. Don’t forget that.’ He looked towards the ground and adjusted his rolled-up cuffs. ‘I just think things aren’t great as they are, whilst people like you get marginalized—’ The tinkle of a bell interrupted him and we both startled and turned towards the door, as if surprised that customers actually might be coming in. The three girls in the doorframe paused, as startled as we were, and then proceeded towards the table beside the window.
‘Good luck,’ Nathan muttered, and retreated back to the kitchen. I took a deep breath, pulled out my notepad, and approached the group. ‘Good morning, what can I get you?’ I chirped, pretending they were total strangers. The nearest girl flicked her long black hair over her shoulders and leered at me from behind her heavy fringe. She was tall, and her shoulders very wide; she didn’t have to tilt her head far to meet my gaze. ‘The usual, witch.’ I gripped the pen tightly, trying to focus through the window on the steady lap of the sea against the harbour walls. ‘I’ve been away for a month, I’m afraid I can’t remember what you and your friends have, Valerie,’ I said through clenched teeth. Valerie Danvers was what could only be described as a bully. My school’s bully. Her sustenance was my misery, not a damned coffee. She muttered something to her friends about Sage, and then begrudgingly gave me her order, demanding that half the dish be omitted. Her friends were only slightly less unpleasant. I went and got their drinks and was thanked with the usual grunt. A minute later I was in the toilet, back to the door, forcing myself to take deep breaths. It was a Saturday morning ritual, and had been ever since Valerie Danvers had discovered the café was the perfect place to torment me. With my eyes closed I could almost see the short outline of a woman – my grandmother – growing older but still in her prime, with her head bowed towards a small child, half her height, and talking. Always talking.
Sagean children are like ivy; you grow fast and live very long. Human children are like butterflies. They are ugly in their chrysalis, until the day they finally emerge, and become adults. The ugly chrysalis is jealous of the ivy, you see? I squeezed my eyelids tighter together. Breathe . . . Hammering on the other side of the door wrenched me back. The small room was still dark and I grabbed a cord, flooding the room with sterile white light. ‘Autumn, I know it’s you, get out of there now!’ ‘Nathan,’ I groaned. He knew Valerie was a pain, why was he bothering me? ‘Something’s happening outside!’ My skin began to heat and tingle as blood and magic raced to my hands. Walls ceased to be barriers . . . because from far away, I could hear a heartbeat, fast approaching and speeding up . . . and it wasn’t human. I unlocked the door and peeked out. A pale Nathan stood on the other side whilst the rest of the café was empty; stepping out I could see Valerie and her friends straining over the railings surrounding the harbour, watching a commotion across the water. I ran outside and the warmth on my skin was whipped away with the cold sea breeze; but my heart went cold too. A jetty opposite us was blanketed in a miniature patch of fog, like a fire had been lit and the smoke had engulfed the wall. Yet it lit up with flashes of light, and it screamed; it screamed for mercy . . . or the people trapped inside did. My body froze. The rational part of my brain knew I should help but my feet wouldn’t move. Suddenly, Nathan bolted away from my side and sprinted along the wall towards the screams. His action shut the fear off and I flung myself into the air and flew across the harbour, crumpling to the ground near the fog.
I had no idea what the fog was – I was too afraid to send any magic towards it in case it hit anybody trapped inside . . . so instead I tentatively reached out with a finger, ball of fire ready just behind in the other hand. It seemed like fine drizzle from a couple of inches away yet as the tip of my finger touched it, no moisture collected . . . Like a sheet being torn apart, I felt the borders between dimensions rip open. You had to have magic to cross them – strong magic – and weak dark-beings and humans couldn’t open them. The dread in my heart only increased as I realized what kind of enemy I was facing: not one I could fight. The pull of the borders tried to yank me forward and I stumbled, trying to hold myself back until the white cloud abruptly disappeared into a closing black hole; it sealed before I could possibly see who had created it. The scene that was revealed was horrifying. There were maybe ten humans, most crouched or lying on the ground, some bleeding, all blinking and looking around bewildered at the sunlight. In the middle there was a man lying flat on his back, a pool of blood gathering around his head but not a scratch anywhere else on him. A woman was leaning over him and shaking his shoulders. Another had her fingers pressed to his wrists. She reached out and placed a hand on the arm of the other woman, shaking her head. ‘Autumn, do something!’ Nathan demanded having caught up with me. The humans looked up for the first time and noticed me. ‘No, Nathan, he’s gone, I can’t—’ Nathan shoved me forwards, glaring. ‘You’re a Sage, of course you can. Sage can do anything.’ I looked down at the man on the ground, shaking my
head as tears brimmed. Why is he doing this? Nathan knows I can’t bring back the dead! ‘It’s your duty,’ Nathan continued. The woman managed to stop sobbing long enough to speak. ‘They had grey scars . . . two of them. Hit him with black light.’ Grey scars – Extermino! And black light . . . That was a death curse! ‘I’m sorry, I really can’t—’ I backed away. There was nothing I could do even if I hadn’t been paralyzed by fear of the Extermino . . . in Brixham. Attacking humans. It didn’t make sense, and something told me that their target had been a Sage . . . and I was the only Sage for miles. The woman screamed and kept shaking the man. I couldn’t watch any longer, and leaving a gaping Nathan, I took to the air again and fled the horror.
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