But then there are new sounds: shouts. Feet thudding.
I look back, and there, through the trees: Lorders. Half a dozen of them at least, converging on the house on foot.
‘Stop,’ a voice says in front. A voice I know.
And I do just that. Instead of diving, attacking, anything, I just stop.
Facing me is Coulson.
‘You could have made things much easier on yourself if you’d just told me what was happening here. Luckily young Cam called us in and tracked you here.’
‘Tracked me…? How?’
He taps his forehead, half smiles. An unnatural movement of his facial muscles. A gun has appeared in his hands and is pointed at my head.
After everything, is this it? There are shouts, fighting and noise behind us that gradually fade away, until all there is, is here, and now. My eyes, and his. My legs are jelly. I half fall to my knees.
‘Let me go,’ I whisper.
‘I can’t do that.’
He shakes his head. What happens beyond us is still dim, a distant other place, unconnected to this moment. Yet some persistent sound intrudes, nears. Until—
Coulson steadies the gun in both hands and pulls the trigger.
CHAPTER FORTY FOUR
* * *
Instead of being thrown back, pinned by a bullet to a swift death; instead of this, there is a thud and cry behind. I spin around.
His hands are clutching his chest. Red red red spreading out as he falls to the ground, and inside I’m spinning, everything going grey, about to disappear and take me from this new horror, and—
No. I fight inside as much, as strong, as I can. NO. I crawl to him, take his hand, wrap my arms around him. His body shudders, and red red red…
‘Sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ I’m saying over and over, and his eyes are mirrors of the shock in mine. Katran is invincible; we can’t believe this. Then – a slight shake to his head, his eyes change, he tries to speak but coughs, and there is more blood, more seeping red. The words won’t come, but his eyes speak. Love’s eyes. ‘No, Katran, no. Don’t go!’ I say, shocked but knowing the truth of how he feels at the same time. How he has always felt, and the anger he hid his feelings behind. The anger that tried to push me away, away from Nico and Free UK. To keep me safe.
His eyes go blank, his body stops shuddering.
NO NO NO and I’m screaming inside and outside, and then, all at once, I am remembering. Another place and time, too like this to hide from any longer. One I never want to go, but get dragged back to, again and again.
I didn’t know him, at first. Not with my eyes.
The changes were marked, his face so forgotten. Consciously, at least. Yet something almost chimed, inside: a confusion of terror and longing, tangled together. I didn’t understand, but stared whenever I could.
He was there, at that place, delivering food and other supplies. But not just a delivery person; he was one of them, that was plain. I saw him through the bars at my window, talking with the guards. From the room that was mine and had been for two years now.
Once a week he’d come, stay one night in the building next door, and then be gone. One day, he saw me looking out the window, and something crossed his face. Some marked desperation, in a flash replaced by a gentleness that didn’t belong. I dived back in my room, shaken and confused.
Every week he came he’d have a special look for me if he found my eyes. A kind look in a place without them.
He started bringing a bottle and other things for the guards, slipping them out of his coat and into theirs. Then one week, most of the guards got very ill. Food poisoning; but no one else got sick. And he stayed the week, filling in, and I saw him more, not just through my window. He was there when I was coming and going to sessions with Doctor Craig; to weapons training under watch of the cold one with the strange eyes who led the guards.
Then one day he slipped something in my hand. I almost cried out: a slip of paper. A note. I tucked it away, read it later. Lucy, I know I look different: I’m in disguise. But it is me: it’s Daddy. We’ll get you out of here and I’ll take you home as soon as I can work out how. I love you.
And I tore it up into as many little pieces as made it dust. I don’t have a family any more. Doctor Craig has said so, over and over. And even if he is my dad – and my thoughts tripped over themselves to even think the label – he gave me away. He didn’t want me.
I didn’t believe in him in my mind, but some other part of me did, and I’d catch myself: hoping, feeling. Things Doctor Craig didn’t like, like remembering things I must forget.
Then one night I was asleep, and then, somehow, the one who gave me the note was in my room. Talking in a low voice with such sadness of other times, other places. And it made me want to cry out, to scream. Get the guards and make his voice stop and go away and never be heard again. But I didn’t.
He was making plans. We’d go next week. But I shook my head no; scared of what, I don’t know. Of leaving a place I hated? Confusion and longing mixed in together. Then he held out his hand. In it, a small bit of carved wood, like a castle.
When I tucked it into my left hand, there was something, some memory. And all at once others tumbled inside.
‘Daddy?’ I whispered, and he smiled, with such joy.
He took the rook back. ‘I better keep this safe for now, so no one sees it. But if you find it tucked hidden on your window ledge, that is the night we go. Be ready.’
And every night, I checked. Then finally it was there: hidden against the side and a bar where it could not be seen, only felt and rescued by small fingers.
That night the house was quiet when he unlocked my door and took my hand. ‘Quiet,’ he breathed, and we slunk down the hall and out the door. But what of the guards? None were there, but as we crept down the side of the house I saw feet sticking out behind a hedge.
He whispered in my ear of a boat waiting at the beach, that we had to be quick to get the tide. We crept through the outer dunes that led to the sea when it happened. A distant noise. Voices.
‘Time to run, Lucy.’
And we ran. He held my hand and we ran and ran. There were voices, sounds behind us, getting closer. ‘Faster!’ he said, and we ran.
Over and over my feet pounded on sand that slipped and gave way.
Then I tripped, fell. He tried to pull me to my feet but exhaustion, terror fixed me to the spot. ‘I can’t,’ I cried.
‘Never forget,’ he said. ‘Never forget who you are!’
And they are on us. I’m grabbed, pulled away. Daddy is pushed back down on the sand.
The cold one smiles, raises a gun.
‘Lucy, close your eyes,’ Daddy says. ‘Don’t look.’ His voice calm, reassuring.
I stare at the gun. No. He is just scaring him like he does me all the time. He won’t do it, he won’t.
‘Look away, Lucy,’ Daddy says, but my eyes are open wide, and as if something controls them other than me, they are caught, trembling, unable to look away or do anything else.
Moments combine and spread out, a flash in succession and all at once. The deafening noise. The rook clenched tight in my hand. The red that spreads out from one place until there is more and more of it, and still I can’t look away. The hands that hold me back let go, and I run to him just in time for his eyes to hold mine before they close forever.
Seeing what scares you for what it is does not lessen the terror. It still has the power to break your heart, over and over again.
CHAPTER FORTY FIVE
* * *
Movement. Dimly perceived but ignored. Until it stops, and a thump of my head against something hard forces me back to now, to my body, to consciousness. I open my eyes, struggle to sit up. Unsure how much time has passed.
I’m on the ground near the house. I feel my arm: the gun that was strapped there is gone. A Lorder with a gun of his own stands close by, pivots towards me when I move, watchful.
Coulson is barking at other Lorders who disappear into the woods: hunting somebody. Who?
Tori is held by a Lorder, one arm pinned behind her back suggesting she’s been giving trouble. Cam is sitting up, facing away. A medic checking his head. Dr Lysander is here also, speaking to Coulson. Katran is – and I swallow – dead: I count him on a list of those whose whereabouts need listing, but shy away from any thought of the gaping loss. Of my part in it.
The only one unaccounted for is Nico. He got away?
Nico runs, and they chase. If caught, will he be shot in the woods like my father on the beach? Like Katran. Both pains are so huge they threaten to take over, engulf me, so all there is, is pain. One current, one years ago but forgotten. Both fresh as today.
Dr Lysander catches sight of where I’ve been dumped. She leaves Coulson in mid-sentence, and hurries over.
She kneels down, touching, checking, pulling at my clothes. ‘Where are you hurt?’ And I can’t answer, can’t speak. Where don’t I hurt? But then I realise it is all the fresh blood on my clothes that has her attention. Katran’s blood.
‘Not all my blood,’ I manage, a whisper more than words.
Coulson walks over, skirting past a few bodies on the ground. Bodies dressed in Lorder black.
‘I’ve told them you got me out, hadn’t called them in yet for my safety,’ Dr Lysander says, her voice low and hurried.
Everything is remote. Cam was part of the Lorders he claimed to hate? He betrayed you, a voice whispers inside, but even that is something for later. I can’t deal with anything beyond the fact of my father’s death.
And Katran. Coulson killed him. Given a chance Katran would have killed any of these Lorders without thought. And them likewise. Nico kills even his own to further the cause of killing them. ‘What does it all mean? What is it for?’
‘Hush,’ Dr Lysander says, and I realise the last thing I’d said out loud.
‘And there she is,’ Coulson says. ‘Will she live?’ he asks her.
‘I expect so. She needs some stitches.’
His cold eyes sweep across me, assessing. ‘I understand we owe Dr Lysander’s safety to your actions. We will investigate further, and see what has happened here. But tell me now. Who is the one who has eluded us?’
What loyalty do I have to the man who murdered my father?
‘Nico. Nicholas. Surname unknown.’
Coulson pauses, a glint in his eyes. ‘He is known to us.’
He nods at the Lorder whose gun is trained on me. ‘She is free to go. For now.’ He turns to me. ‘I’ll be in touch.’
Tori’s face contorts with fury. She lunges, a sudden movement that surprises her guard. She breaks free and is almost on me before being dragged back.
‘Traitor!’ she screams. ‘Kyla, or Rain, or whoever you are, I’ll get you. I’ll hunt you down and gut you with my knife.’ She is dragged away, thrown in the back of a Lorder van. But not before I see the hate in her eyes.
CHAPTER FORTY SIX
* * *
Coulson has one of the Lorders drive me home after a stop at a local hospital for stitches. In one of their black vans, but this time, sitting in the front. Distaste is all over his face at the state of me, but I don’t care. Too much caring screams inside.
It is late evening now. Dark. As we go down the main road of our village, I wonder absently if curtains twitch in kitchens and bedroom windows at the sight of a Lorder van going by?
It pulls up in front of our house. Dad’s car is here. The front door springs open: Mum.
‘Get out,’ the Lorder says, voice flat.
I open the van door, step down. Start walking stiffly to the house as he pulls away.
‘Oh my God,’ Mum says. ‘What has happened to you? What have they done?’ I sway on my feet, and she tries to grab me.
I shrug her off. ‘I’m fine,’ I say, the biggest lie of all, and walk through the front door.