Page 35

Then the moment passed, and he peeled his gloved fingers away from the girl’s throat and watched her body slide down the warped metal of the car door and onto the concrete, blue hair falling across her face. Eli crossed himself as the angry red scratches on his cheek knitted and healed, leaving only smooth, clear skin beneath the drying blood. He knelt to retrieve his prop glasses from the ground beside the body. His cell rang as he straightened them on his nose, and he fished the phone from his coat.

“The Hero Line,” he answered smoothly. “How can I assist you?”

* * *

ELI had expected Serena’s slow laugh—the Hero bit was an inside joke—but the voice on the other end was gravelly and most certainly male.

“Mr. Ever?” asked the man.

“Who is this?”

“This is Officer Dane with the Merit PD. We got a call of a robbery in progress at Tidings Well Bank, at Fifth and Harbor.”

Eli frowned. “I have my own job, Officer. Don’t tell me the cops want me to do theirs, too. And how did you get this number? It’s not how we agreed to communicate.”

“The girl. She gave it to me.” Something exploded in the background, showering the line with static.

“It better be urgent.”

“It is,” said Officer Dane. “The robber is an EO.”

Eli rubbed his forehead. “Don’t you have special tactics? Surely they teach you those somewhere. I can’t exactly walk in and—”

“The fact he’s an EO isn’t the problem, Mr. Ever.”

“Then do tell me,” said Eli through gritted teeth. “What is?”

“He’s been identified as Barry Lynch. You … that is, he’s … he’s supposed to be dead.”

A long pause.

“I’m on my way,” said Eli. “Is that all?”

“Not quite. He’s making a scene. Shouting for you specifically. Should we shoot him?”

Eli closed his eyes as he reached his car. “No. Don’t kill him until I get there.” Eli hung up.

He opened the door and climbed in, hitting speed dial. A girl’s voice answered, but he cut her off.

“We have a problem. Barry’s back.”

“I’m watching it on the news. I thought you—”

“Yes, I killed him, Serena. He was very dead.”

“Then how—”

“How is he robbing a bank at Fifth and Harbor?” Eli snapped, gunning the car. “How is he suddenly not dead? That’s a good question. Who could possibly have resurrected Lynch?”

There was a long quiet on the other end of the phone, before Serena answered. “You told me you killed her.”

Eli gripped the wheel. “I thought I did.” He had hoped, anyway.

“The way you killed Barry?”

“I may have been more certain about Lynch than I was about Sydney. Barry was definitely, undeniably dead.”

“You told me you followed her. You told me you finished—”

“We’ll talk about this later,” he said. “I have to go kill Barry Lynch. Again.”

* * *

SERENA let the phone slip through her fingers. It landed on the bed with a soft thud as she turned back to the hotel television, where the robbery coverage continued. Even though the action was happening within the bank, and the cameras were stuck on the street behind a thick border of yellow tape, the scene was causing quite a stir. After all, it had been in all the papers, the robbery last week at Smith & Lauder. The civilian hero had come out of the firefight unscathed. The robber had come out in a body bag.

No surprise that the public was disconcerted, then, to find the robber alive and well enough to rob another bank. His name ran in ticker-tape fashion along the bottom of the screen, the bold-lettered scrawl announcing Barry Lynch Alive Barry Lynch Alive Barry Lynch Alive …

And that meant Sydney was alive. Serena had no doubt that the strange and disquieting feat had somehow been her sister’s work.

She took a sip of too-hot coffee, and winced faintly when it burned her throat, but didn’t stop. She clung to the fact that inanimate objects weren’t subject to her power. They didn’t have minds or feelings. She couldn’t will the coffee not to burn her, couldn’t will knives not to cut her. The people holding the things were hers, but not the things themselves. She took another sip, eyes wandering back to the television where a photo of the previously deceased EO now filled the right half of the screen.

But why had Sydney done it?

Eli had promised Serena that her sister was dead. She’d warned him not to lie, and he’d looked her in the eyes and told her that he’d shot Sydney. And that hadn’t been a lie exactly, had it? She’d been standing right there when he pulled the trigger. Her jaw clenched. Eli was getting better at fighting back, finding little loopholes in her power. Redirections, omissions, evasions, delays. Not that she didn’t appreciate the small defiance—she did—but the thought of Sydney, alive and hurt and in the city, made it hard to breathe.

It was never supposed to go like this.

Serena closed her eyes, and the field and the body and her sister’s frightened face filled her vision. Sydney had done her best to look brave that day, but she couldn’t hide the fear, not from Serena, who knew every line on her sister’s face, who’d perched on the edge of her sister’s bed so many nights, smoothing those lines one by one with her thumb in the dark. Serena should never have turned back, never called her sister’s name. It had been a reflex, an echo of life before. She’d reminded herself over and over that the girl in the field wasn’t her sister, not really. Serena knew the girl who looked like Sydney wasn’t Sydney, the same way she knew that she wasn’t Serena. But it didn’t seem to matter the moment right before Eli pulled the trigger; Sydney had looked small and frightened and so very alive and Serena had forgotten that she wasn’t.

Her eyes drifted open, only to settle on the still-streaming headline—Barry Lynch Alive Barry Lynch Alive Barry Lynch Alive—before she snapped the TV off.

Eli said it best. He called EOs shadows, shaped like the people who made them but gray inside. Serena felt it. From the moment she woke up in the hospital, she felt as if something colorful and bright and vital was missing. Eli went on to say it was her soul; he claimed he was different and Serena let him think that because the only other option was to tell him otherwise, and then he’d believe it.

But what if he was right? The thought of having lost her soul made Serena sad in a distant way. And the thought of poor small Syd all hollowed out made her ache, and made it easier to believe Eli when he said it was mercy, returning EOs to the earth. It had been harder when Sydney was standing in her doorway, flushed from the cold and blue eyes bright, like the light was still in them. Serena had faltered, tripped over the what-ifs whispering in her head as they trudged into the field.

Sydney’s sin, Eli claimed, was double. Not only was she an EO, unnatural and wrong, but she also possessed the power to corrupt others, to poison them by filling their bodies with something that looked like life, but wasn’t. Maybe that was what Serena had seen in Sydney’s eyes, a false light she’d mistaken for her sister’s life. Her soul.